Rifts widen between lawmakers after Science and Technology minister’s interview about infighting goes viral
A meeting of Pakistan’s federal cabinet on Tuesday descended into a shouting match between various lawmakers after Planning Minister Asad Umar voiced displeasure at Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s claims of governance issues during an interview earlier this week.
According to local media, Umar and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi both complained to Prime Minister Imran Khan that Chaudhry’s statement alleging Jahangir Tareen had instigated Umar’s ouster as finance minister was “irresponsible.” In the interview, Chaudhry had alleged that after Tareen had Umar ousted as finance minister, Umar had worked to sideline Tareen once he was back in the cabinet as planning minister.
Seeking to justify his views, Chaudhry said he was merely offering his analysis of the situation. He also hit back at Umar, asking him to clarify whether there had been no rift between him and Tareen. He also said that he was only answerable to the prime minister, adding neither Umar nor any other minister had any authority over him. According to sources, the prime minister then stepped in and calmed the situation, urging cabinet members to remain united and not air their grievances before media.
After Chaudhry’s outburst, Federal Water Resources Minister Faisal Vawda also leapt into the fray, accusing his fellow lawmakers of hurting the government through their infighting. “We are told in the cabinet meeting that everything is fine, but the reality is different on the ground,” he said, accusing the lawmakers of hiding facts from the prime minister.
According to sources, he accused Umar and Qureshi of wanting to be the “deputy prime minister” and “prime minister” of Pakistan and vowed that the party would never support anyone but Khan. “We need a report on who is misleading the cabinet,” he said. Per reports, he was calmed down by the prime minister, who then directed him to gather information on anyone who might be working against the interests of the government.
“The issue of Fawad Chaudhry’s interview was discussed in the [cabinet] meeting and the prime minister expressed displeasure on it,” Information Minister Shibli Faraz said in a post-meeting press conference. While he refused to confirm if an argument had ensued, he said the prime minister had advised his lawmakers against discussing the party’s internal issues in open forums.
Vawda remained defiant in an appearance on a private TV channel, maintaining that the prime minister had not asked him to calm down. “We are not answerable to anyone in the party, only Imran Khan,” he said, adding that he agreed with Chaudhry.
The rift within the PTI appears to be tied to growing unease among elected parliamentarians over the influence enjoyed by unelected special assistants and advisers. Earlier this month, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan also voiced his criticism of unelected parliamentarians, telling a private TV channel he “did not know where these people had come from.”
Talking the talk
On Monday, Chaudhry alleged during an interview with Suhail Warraich for Voice of America that infighting between Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Planning Minister Asad Umar and PTI stalwart Jahangir Tareen was the primary reason for Prime Minister Imran Khan failing to achieve his goals. “There were a lot of expectations from PTI and Imran Khan,” he said, adding that the public had voted the party into power to “reform” the system. However, he said, infighting had sidelined the party’s political cadres, creating a political vacuum that was “filled by people who have nothing to do with politics,” an apparent reference to Khan’s reliance on unelected special assistants and advisers to serve on cabinet posts.
“When Imran Khan’s core team was shaken, the new people to have replaced them were not in agreement with the [premier’s] ideas and still aren’t,” he claimed.