The family and the press

Published May 10, 2022
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

IMRAN Khan may be on a roll with his jalsas and stories of ‘saazish’ but he is not the only one who is making news. In recent days, Ishaq Dar too has been getting much attention. Perhaps making up for his enforced absence from television during the PTI years, he has been generously granting detailed interviews to television shows on the economy and politics.

And the news-hungry anchors can’t resist provoking him with leading questions about interest rates, dollar-rupee parity and the fuel subsidy. He doesn’t disappoint. His answers such as insisting on the need to reduce the rupee value of the dollar or the interest rate creates debate and controversy for his own government, which obviously has to maintain some of the decisions put in place by the PTI, considering the precarious economic situation.

This is not really new; earlier, after the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, when Shahid Khaqan had become prime minister, Ishaq Dar had criticised the change in economic policies brought about by Miftah Ismail.

At that time, perhaps his anger seemed justified. He and his prime minister had been pushed out of power in an unseemly manner, and cases were being opened against him, as he left Pakistan. He was then replaced as finance minister. It was a difficult time for most Noonies, especially Nawaz Sharif and Ishaq Dar.

But his present outbursts are not so easy to understand. Is it still a case of rivalry with the party’s newest finance kid? This is obviously one explanation; after all, until recently, no one ever thought that Dar could ever be replaced.

Ishaq Dar’s present outbursts are not so easy to understand.

Personal rivalries within parties can sometimes end up causing grand rifts. The PTI and its various larai jhagras (fights), in opposition and in government, were the stuff of legend and other parties can only hope to offer equally grand jousting bouts.

But what if there is more to it? Consider Dar’s recent interview to Shehzad Iqbal of Geo.

Apart from criticising the fall of the rupee and the low growth of exports (his argument is that because Pakistan’s exports are rather inelastic, there really is no point in letting the rupee slide), he also suggested that the IMF programme be renegotiated in order to protect the ordinary people.

Read: IMF agrees to add $2bn to ongoing programme

These are intriguing points to make. After all, he has to be aware of the PML-N government’s priority, which has been to push for a quick settlement of the IMF programme. The new finance minister took oath and was then packed off to Washington, D.C., in a bid to show off how different and decisive the Noonies are from the confused PTI wallahs who took months to even decide if they wanted to talk to the Fund.

And that wasn’t all. Asad Umar negotiated with the Fund for Hafeez Sheikh to come in and redo some of it and then Shaukat Tarin waltzed in to change it all yet again. Noon has been at pains to show that their people in charge enjoy the authority to make commitments and the knowledge that they don’t get replaced at the drop of a hat. And neither is the party prone to public backbiting.

All this is the hallmark of the inexperienced ones, the PTI. Noon is different. But Dar’s pronouncements will not help this distinction, painstakingly created over the past three years.

This is not all, however.

Dar has also spoken of the need for an early election — by October this year.

This was said to be the plan of the Noonies as they were working on the no-confidence move. Those close to Nawaz Sharif, such as Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, would insist, and aggressively so, that as soon as Khan was sent home, the new government would do whatever legislation was needed and then call elections. Questions about possible delays would not go down well; senior party leaders insisted they needed the legitimacy of an election to address the mess made by the PTI.

Read: Elections will be held after govt completes its tenure, says Marriyum Aurangzeb

But once the deed was done and Khan displayed his street power, this resolve weakened. Those in government became less clear about when the election would be held, and some argued that this was because the Noonies wanted to stabilise the economy before facing Khan in the election. Abbasi himself went on the record to say the government would complete its term. That the PPP (and others) was also not in the mood for an early election may also have added to this change of heart.

However, Dar seems to have thrown another spanner in the works by insisting that elections have to be called and soon, causing many to wonder if he is simply upset or voicing the views of leader number one, whom he accompanies day in and day out. Soon enough, it will also be worth asking if the delay in the decision on the petrol price subsidy is due to the reluctance of the prime minister or Nawaz Sharif in London. By the weekend, commentators on one show were at pains to point out that the power to make economic decisions lay in London and not Islamabad.

The prime minister was asked about the election date on Sunday; he preferred to once again remain vague and say the final decision is yet to be made.

But none of this will end the debate over a possible family dispute, because the rift in the Sharif family has been a popular topic for talk shows, and it might just be about to be revived. For only the cold relations between Harry and Wills are more interesting fodder for the talking heads!

Indeed, the family may be at pains to show a united front but few are willing to buy that lock, stock and barrel. There are hushed whispers about how the present outcome has propelled Shehbaz Sharif and Hamza Shehbaz to power but not Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz. The disqualifications, restrictions on travel and bar on parliamentary politics continue with no clear sign of it ending.

This seeming imbalance between the two family branches does not make for stable governance, perhaps just as much as an Imran Khan on the streets.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2022

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