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High office quietens the once loud Raja Ashraf

November 02, 2012

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf speaks to media representatives. — File Photo by AFP

His sole press conference was on October 19, when the Supreme Court ruled on Asghar Khan’s petition regarding the role of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the 1990 general elections. For the remainder of his brief tenure, his public relations office has dealt with the media, apprising them about his official and unofficial engagements.

Needless to say, Mr Ashraf’s current image of a tight-lipped premier is a far, far cry from his earlier stint as the minister for water and power, when he had a more hands-on approach in his dealings with the media.

There was rarely an opportunity spared by Mr Ashraf to defend himself and his party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), against corruption charges, and many people are yet to forget his verbal duel with former cabinet colleague Faisal Saleh Hayat over the latter’s accusation of kickbacks involved in rental power projects.

In fact, his cautious relationship with the media is also unlike that of his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, who on any given day would have separate extended sittings with electronic and print media journalists.

There are rumours going around in circles in Islamabad that Mr Ashraf has instructions straight from the Presidency to avoid “unnecessary media interactions”. His press conference on October 19 was also on the directives from the Presidency, because as one source opined: “It was a rare occasion, the court had upheld PPP’s assertions that the general elections of 1990 were rigged and Mr Ashraf could not have avoided meeting the press and explaining in detail how the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) connived with the then military establishment to defraud elections and put Nawaz Sharif at helm of affairs.”

The prime minister’s team is clearly in the loop as far as interactions with the media are concerned. Where the PM looks fully determined to follow his boss’s instructions in dealing with media, his press secretary, Shafqat Jalil, also believes in the less is more philosophy. Mr Jalil keeps Mr Ashraf at a safe distance from the prying eyes of media, and when the need arises, he churns out terse official statements which only focus on the PM’s daily meetings with politicians and other dignitaries.

On the other hand, Mr Jalil’s predecessor, Akram Shaheedi, was the man who would push Mr Gilani to face media persons on every given opportunity and express himself.

During Shaheedi’s time, journalists who were assigned to cover the prime minister used to be informed beforehand whether Mr Gilani would hold a press talk after attending a certain ceremony. Now, no such practice is being observed and the media is kept unaware of the PM’s routine activities.

There are other theories doing the rounds too about the turn-around in PPP’s approach. After the removal of former Prime Minister, the PPP leadership desperately wants to mend its frayed relationship with the judiciary. The PPP leaders have largely avoided criticising the courts and Mr Gilani too has fallen in line.

Even PPP senator Faisal Raza Abidi, who had continued with his anti-judiciary rhetoric, has been served with a notice for speaking against judges of the Supreme Court.

At best it seems, the PPP is not interested in creating a circus at the tail end of its five-year government and wants to make sure that its exit is amicable.