Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Sunday defended Finance Minister Miftah Ismail's performance, saying that the difficult decisions taken by him regarding the economy were "endorsed and owned" by the federal cabinet collectively.
In an appearance on Geo News programme Naya Pakistan, Asif was questioned about mounting criticism of Ismail due to the recent fuel hikes in the country, including from within the PML-N. "Miftah's performance in the last three months and his decisions have been endorsed by the whole cabinet. These are the government's decisions so we own them," the defence minister said.
He acknowledged that the loss of the PML-N's political capital and the risk to its popularity was discussed during PML-N meetings. However, he said that internal criticism against the finance minister did not mean an expression of "no confidence". Rather, he said, such "open criticism" was part of the PML-N's democratic culture that should be welcomed.
"I think our finance minister, we should support him. He's making decisions with our and the cabinet's approval. He shouldn't be left alone to face the situation."
Referring to his tweet from a day ago in Ismail's favour, Asif said he had expressed solidarity with the finance minister to avoid the impression that he was making decisions in isolation.
"Miftah's decisions are the party's decisions. We all went to England to take policy direction ... my tweet is clarifying that if Miftah is being blamed [for fuel hike decisions] then [know that] it is the whole government's decision."
A day ago, Asif tweeted that Ismail was being criticised by those with "vested interests", including from within the PML-N, and now was the time to show solidarity with him.
"Miftah is among the hardest working members of PM’s team, accessible to all stakeholders," Asif had said.
Senior PML-N leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had also echoed the sentiments and hailed Ismail's economic knowledge as "without parallel in Pakistan politics today".
"He is one of the most effective members of PM’s cabinet. He has played a crucial role in saving Pakistan from default and in implementing PML-N’s economic reform agenda," Abbasi had said.
Meanwhile, Asif was also questioned about rumours of former finance minister Ishaq Dar's return to the country, responding that Dar could do so at any time and "we are looking forward to it."
However, when pressed further on reports that Dar would take up the finance ministry, Asif rubbished them as "premature" speculation.
Sources had previously told Dawn that Dar’s return to Pakistan was "highly likely" by the third week of July.
"Nawaz Sharif is adamant that Dar should return, since the country's economic situation is hitting our credibility," an insider had told Dawn. The source said it was likely Dar would return to Pakistan sometime in July.