SAPMs’ resignation

Updated 31 Jul 2020

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SOME resignations deserve to be celebrated. The two that were submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday do not fall in this category.

Tania Aidrus and Dr Zafar Mirza, special assistants to the prime minister working as team leads in the digital and health domains respectively, announced their resignations via social media citing reasons which may have some basis but clearly do not explain the entirety of the situation. Ms Aidrus referred to her dual nationality as a key factor in her decision while Dr Mirza pointed to the furore over the role of unelected special assistants and advisers as influencing his resignation. He also expressed disappointment at not being able to usher in reforms in the health sector that were his primary reason for accepting the job.

If these reasons are taken at face value — which can only be done partially — even then the ruling party needs to seriously review the fallout of these resignations.

It is fairly clear that neither Ms Aidrus nor Dr Mirza resigned voluntarily. If they were forced out for issues that they have publicly stated, they leave many questions unanswered. The issue of dual nationals serving in key government positions needs to be settled one way or another. The government cannot have it both ways: throwing Ms Aidrus under the bus while retaining other dual nationals as heads of ministries. Such duality will reflect adversely on the government’s credibility and undercut its claims of holding on to principled positions.

In the light of these resignations, all the other SAPMs may want to reconsider their positions and make the right call. Similarly, the prime minister should also take the grumblings of his elected cabinet members against their unelected colleagues seriously. Going by the government’s logic, the resignation of two key people has already delivered a blow to the myth that specialists will do a better job of running ministries. It is advisable that the prime minister strike a proper balance within the cabinet and rethink his overt partiality to unelected technocrats.

These resignations have also, yet again, exposed the groupings and turf wars inside the ruling party. If Ms Aidrus fell victim to such factional fighting, it reflects poorly on the way that the government is run. It also illustrates that the system remains resistant to outside talent regardless of who sits at the top. This is a wrong message for all those who want to contribute towards reforming governance.

Prime Minister Imran Khan was the most vocal supporter of bringing in the best people from across the world to serve in official positions and make a difference. After seeing how two such persons were unceremoniously removed from their positions, most people would think twice before jumping into a system that does not welcome outside talent.

It is an unfortunate situation whichever way one looks at it.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2020