SITUATIONER: ‘Inconvenient truths’ fuel capital rumour mill

Web Desk – May 20, 2022

THE federal capital on Thursday remained in the grip of speculation that the ‘establishment’ had started consultations over the formation of an interim government, ahead of possible early elections.

Political circles were also perturbed by the rumours about the possibility of a caretaker set up coming in amid calls for early elections. Perhaps it was in this backdrop that top leaders from the main ruling coalition partners, PPP and PML-N, declared that they would be more than happy to go for early polls.

The conjecturing began after reports emerged that former finance ministers Dr Hafiz Sheikh and Shaukat Tarin, along with former State Bank governor Raza Baqir, had met with senior military leaders.

A source confirmed to Dawn that Dr Hafeez Shaikh had indeed participated in a meeting with the military leadership in the presence of at least two other technocrats-turned-politicians, who have held top positions in the Finance Ministry in the past.

“The agenda of the meeting was to deliberate over the way forward with respect to the resumption of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme,” the source further said, adding that there was consensus on the need for putting up a joint front while dealing with the fund.

“Pakistan needs the IMF loan. We shouldn’t play politics on economic issues,” one of the participants of the meeting was quoted as having said during the interaction.

However, Inter-Services Public Relations, when asked about reports of such meetings, said: “These are all rumours and baseless statements which have no truth.”

Speculation abounds

Pakistan is in the throes of an economic crisis because of a widening current account deficit and plummeting foreign reserves. It, therefore, urgently needs a bailout package from IMF, but for that it would have to end the fuel subsidy currently in vogue.

The new government has hesitated in taking the tough decision to end the subsidy and address other structural problems, because of the heavy potential political cost of such moves.

There is also growing chatter that the government may quit instead of taking unpopular decisions that may hurt the coalition parties’ chances in upcoming polls. Those familiar with the thinking in military circles say the top brass also believes that the current situation is unsustainable.

“The longer this crisis continues, the more acute the economic pain will be,” the source said, while sharing the thinking in the military, adding that the situation was affecting national security.

Rumours that an interim set may be cobbled together were further strengthened by former interior minister Sheikh Rashid’s recent claim that interviews of potential candidates for the caretaker government had begun in Rawalpindi.

There are reports of at least two former diplomats also having held meetings with military leaders.

This conjecturing coincided with reports that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was planning to address the nation on Friday, where he could announce tough political and economic decisions to steer the country out of the crises confronting it.

Former prime minister Imran Khan is expected to announce on Friday the date for his planned long march to press for early elections. The long march, it is feared, would add to political instability and eventually aggravate economic crisis.

Political uncertainty

Senior PML-N leaders have, meanwhile, begun publicly asking the government, which their party is leading, to resign.

PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, at a public rally in Sargodha, said it was better to step down than to burden the people with inflation.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, in a media appearance, also said that if no one is ready to take ownership of the tough decisions, then it is better to leave.

Talking to a TV channel on Thursday, PML-N senior vice-president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that state institutions, including judiciary, military and media, should support the constitutional acts of the government. He said the government needed to take tough economic decisions which also had a “political price”, adding that all the stakeholders should share the responsibility.

The Pakistan People’s Party, a major ruling coalition partner, wants the government to complete its constitutionally mandated tenure. However, on Thursday, one of its key leaders began to sing a different tune.

“We will be happy if asked to end the government. We will be thankful for sparing us,” said veteran PPP leader and Minister for Water Resources Khurshid Ahmed Shah told a group of reporters.

“I can say it openly that we will carry out election reforms and go home after announcing elections in October or November (this year),” he declared.

Mr Shah said they were carrying a “burden” on their shoulders and trying to save the country from a Sri Lanka-like situation.

Meanwhile, PPP leader and former president Asif Zardari met PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and discussed the prevailing political situation. While a clear outcome was not shared with the media, many speculated that the two seasoned politicians had put their heads together to come up with a way out of the political and economic quagmire the country found itself in.

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