Prime Minister Imran Khan completed his first month in power last week and during these 30 days he, together with his ministers stepped back from the promises made and the decisions taken in the cabinet meetings on as many as 16 times.
It is an interesting task to enlist these flip-flops together with the version of Iftikhar Durrani, Imran’s spokesperson.
1) That he would not stay at Prime Minister House was the promise Imran made before and after the elections. Once voted to power, it was announced that he would live at the National Assembly Speaker’s House in the Minister Enclave; another announcement followed a day after declaring he would reside in Punjab House. But finally he decided to settle in the PM House as he opted to reside in the Military Secretary House located in the same premises. Durrani however insisted that MS House is situated in PM Staff Colony, a claim which is factually incorrect. This house is a few yards away from the residence designated for the PM whereas colony is outside the PM House on the road leading to Bari Imam Shrine.
2) No protocol will be accorded to him, was another promise of Imran. After he assumed the top office, the government spokesman said PM will have only two vehicles and two servants at his disposal. He’d give examples of Netherland Prime Minister who bikes to office. If the number of vehicles in his convoy within Islamabad is to believe, around six vehicles accompany him. Durrani contested this observation in these words: “He still uses two vehicles for security purpose and a jammer carry and one security vehicle desired by blue book.” He uses two servants, according to Durrani.
3) Information minister Fawad Chaudhry told journalists a day after taking oath that PM would not travel abroad during the first three months in the power. This claim was in contrast to his departure Tuesday for Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Durrani defended this on the ground that he decided to fly because there were “highly government to government talks for possible future investment.” As a matter of fact, former PMs had also been flying abroad for the official businesses; not for holidaying.
4) That PM will not use special plane for the foreign visits was a decision taken in the cabinet meeting. Instead, he will travel through commercial airline, it was decided. But Imran flew on Air Force One, a special plane for the PM. Durrani said since he was to fly at three different cities in Saudi Arabia and then to UAE, this was not possible through commercial flights. One wonders if Imran’s predecessors had ruled in different times and requirements.
5) The second cabinet meeting had also slapped ban on the foreign visits of the ministers, however, four ministers accompanied Imran to Saudi Arab: Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umar, Fawad Chaudhry and Abdul Razzaq Dawood. Here Durrani reacted by saying these ministers/ advisors are travelling “for purpose, it is not a courtesy call as had been happening in the past.”
6) Another decision taken in that cabinet meeting had not only required PM to travel through commercial airline but also the ministers. In contrast, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi when visited Afghanistan four days ago, he chose the special plane for travel. Durrani didn’t answer this.
7) The government’s flip flop on granting citizenship to Afghanis and Bengalis is one of the latest example of abrupt u-turns. Only on late Sunday, PM Imran made this announcement and went on to say that since he holds the additional charge of interior ministry, he will direct the ministry to come up with comprehensive policy in this regard. On Tuesday, he changed his statement as he told the Parliament that it was just a food for thought, not a final decision. Durrani claimed that Imran hasn’t backed out and he still holds the point and that he wanted to tell people to mind the difference between who came to Pakistan as refugees and those who have been born here.
8) Depoliticisation of bureaucracy is another promise of Imran Khan. However, his government reacted entirely opposite when confronted with this challenge from within. District Police Officer Pakpattan Rizwan Gondal was first removed from his position and then surrendered to the Establishment Division after he refused to apologize to Khawar Maneka, the former husband of the wife of Imran Khan, Bushra Bibi. He was summoned by CM Usman Buzdar and forced to apologize but he refused to submit. The federal government did nothing; only the Supreme Court took notice of the matter. As deputy commissioners of Chakwal and Rajanpur complained against the political pressure applied by PTI MNAs, the officers were served with the show cause notice for airing their grievances instead of taking actions against the MNAs. Durrani didn’t offer any comment on this point.
9) Another u-turn was taken on the composition of Economic Advisory Council. Atif Mian, a distinguished economist of global recognition was named as one of the members of the council. As the resistance mounted from the religious right who objected Atif on the basis of his religious beliefs, the government initially vowed to resist the pressure but later submitted to it. In consequence, two other members of the council resigned in protest of Atif Mian’s removal. Durrani claimed Atif step down himself. This is in contrast what Senator Faisal Javed said as he broke the news through a tweet: “Atif Mian was asked to step down from the Advisory Council and he has agreed.”
10) On the issue of hike in gas prices, the information minister kept denying such reports in the beginning but later the news turned out true. As petroleum minister made announcement of price hike, Fawad Chaudhry was standing beside him without any sign of regret on his face for his wrong claims in this regard. Durrani justified this on the ground that there’s Rs67 billion circular debt of the gas and the PTI only came to know after forming the government. As a matter of fact, Fawad’s statements emerged three weeks after installing the government.
11) China Pakistan Economic Corridor was not spared from unguarded commentary either. The PM advisor on commerce, Razzaq Dawood told Financial Times that PTI government plans to review it and the project will be halted until then. As this news sparked speculations and resentment, the advisor ate his words saying his point had been reported out of context. On this issue, Durrani said: “There is a clear stance and the government stands by it.”
12) Imran had been critical of the past government for appointing its favorite on important positions. He lambasted Nawaz Sharif for naming Najam Sethi as Chairman Pakistan Cricket Board. “The reason cricket has, unlike elsewhere, failed to become an institution in Pak because here PM appoints PCB Chief,” he tweeted in March 2016. As Sethi resigned on August 20 this year, two days after Imran took oath, Imran did for what he had criticized Nawaz Sharif. “I have appointed Ehsan Mani as Chairman PCB. He brings vast and valuable experience to the job….” PM Imran tweeted the same day. Reacting to this contradiction in preach and practice, Durrani said Najam Sethi had been the journalist whereas Ehsan Mani had been heading PCB before. He didn’t however answer why it was wrong for Nawaz Sharif to name Chairman PCB as PM and right for Imran to do so.
13) He was also critical of Nawaz Sharif for inaugurating different development projects as, he thought, this should have been done by the head of the concerned department. Then public saw him going against his own preaching when he inaugurated Rawalpindi-Mianwali express the other day. Durrani didn’t offer any comment on this.
14) Imran in his victory speech said a fact-finding commission on alleged rigging in the elections will be formed as per opposition demand and that he was ready to open an constituency. A couple of day after, he himself objected when Kh Saad Rafique went to the court for recounting of NA-131 where Imran was the winner. As Lahore High Court accepted the demand, Imran went in appeal to the Supreme Court which granted him stay order. Durrani said Khawaja Saad Rafique was given all the opportunities to do what he wanted to. But he didn’t explain why Imran went into court to oppose Saad’s plea and got stay order.
15) PM Imran Khan received a call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wherein he congratulated him. A readout issued by the State Department said Pompeo also urged PM to take action against terror camps inside Pakistan, a claim Foreign Office denied saying conversation didn’t occur on this point and demanded of the State Department to retract. However, US shared transcript of the conversation to reinforce that discussion on this matter occurred negating Pakistan’s claim. Reacting to this, Durrani said in diplomatic relationship, one needs to come up with some sort of diplomacy and that “we don’t endorse that transcript.”
16) Yet another diplomatic faux pas occurred over the interpretation of congratulatory letter from Indian PM Modi. On his first day to office, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Modi has offered the resumption of comprehensive dialogue, a claim first denied by India when the government shared the contents of the letter with Indian journalists. Later, Foreign Office had to backtrack from the statement of its minister.>