ISLAMABAD: In yet another reshuffle in the federal cabinet, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday changed portfolios of five ministers while bringing in ex-minister Shaukat Tarin to replace finance minister Hammad Azhar who had been recently given the charge in place of Hafeez Shaikh.

The opposition termed the reshuffle “old wine in new bottle” and questioned what significant change the prime minister had brought about by such reshuffles.

According to the Prime Minister Office, Shaukat Fayyaz Ahmed Tarin has been appointed as finance minister with the additional portfolio of revenue. He replaced Mr Azhar who had served as finance minster for less than three weeks.

While no notification has been issued regarding the shake-up, another reshuffle is expected in the cabinet within the next few days when some new faces are likely to be brought in.

Five portfolios changed, another shake-up likely soon

Former finance minister Hammad Azhar has been given the slot of Minister for Energy while ex-energy minister Omar Ayub has been made Minister for Economic Affairs in place of Khusro Bakhtiar who has been made Minister for Industries and Production.

Under the new arrangement, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry and Minister for Information and Broadcas­ting Shibli Faraz have swapped their portfolios.

The federal cabinet has been reshuffled at least four times since the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf came to power.

Mr Chaudhry, who has been given information ministry for a second time, while talking to Dawn, confirmed the new changes and said another phase of the reshuffle was expected over the next few days.

Sources in the government had earlier told Dawn that the government had made an offer to Mr Tarin to join the cabinet as special assistant or adviser to the PM, but he linked it with the decision on a reference that he has been facing for nearly a decade. He had said he would not accept the offer unless a case against him filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was disposed of.

He is a distant relative of senior PTI leader Jehangir Tareen, who is also facing inquiries in the sugar scandal of the government.

Mr Tarin, who also held the finance ministry in the PPP government, is the fourth finance minister appointed by PM Khan after Asad Umar, Hafeez Shaikh and Hammad Azhar had been given the portfolio.

Similarly, the ministry of petroleum has changed hands from PTI leaders Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Omar Ayub to Nadeem Babar in less than three years before Tabish Gohar was brought in as special assistant. The official in charge of the ministry of food security has also been changed multiple times.

The first major reshuffle came in April 2019 when Mr Sheikh was brought in as an adviser to the PM on finance replacing Mr Umar, who was the finance minister. Later in November 2019 Mr Umar was brought back to the federal cabinet as planning minister while Mr Bakhtiar was appointed as minister of economic affairs. The reshuffle came days after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) team released reports on sugar crisis and mentioned then food security minister Mr Bakhtiar among the beneficiaries.

Mr Chaudhry on Friday said as information minister, his task would be to change misperceptions about Pakistan and highlight vibrant efforts of the government for making a ‘Naya Pakistan’.

The minister, in a tweet, said he was grateful to PM Khan for providing him an opportunity to work as Minister for Science and Technology. He realized that one ministry that could change the fate of Pakistan was the Ministry of Science and Technology, he added. He also expressed the hope that the IT ministry and science and technology ministry would be merged, with the government making efforts to change Pakistan into a hub of knowledge economy.

Asked whether the PM was not satisfied with the performance of ministers he replaced, Mr Chaudhry said this was the question that the prime minister could better answer. “Nobody except the prime minister knows why the ministers have been replaced,” he said.

Opposition’s reaction

The opposition reacted on the reshuffle in the cabinet as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) believed that the reshuffle and further tilt towards technocrats was a manifestation of the longstanding desire of the hybrid regime to replace parliamentary system with that of technocrats in a presidential form of governance.

PPP leader Farhatullah Babar believed the latest cabinet reshuffle and the facade of banning Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan was a signal to the IMF and forthcoming meeting of FATF that their demands would be met by the hybrids. “Economy will not improve by changing faces. It needs structural changes. Issues in non-combat military expenditures, the Reko Diq case and NAB driving away investors are areas that lie at the root of economic problems,” he said.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said changing his team would not work as actual change would come when the team leader would be replaced. “A week ago the prime minister was lauding the performance of finance and information ministers but today he replaced them,” she said.

Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq said Mr Khan and his team had failed to rid the country from crises. He said the prime minister wanted to run the country on the pattern of cricket field but the fact was his team was incapable to deliver.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2021

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