April 20, 2019 | Daily Times

Asad Omar’s sad departure from the cabinet has made it abundantly clear; prime minister Imran Khan is pitched against firmly entrenched forces of status quo.

Although incompetence, incoherence and indecision on some key issues has marked the first eight months of the PTI government, yet systemic opposition to his agenda – resistance to reform from within the governance system – stands out as a major obstacle to change.

The PM, it seems, was hoodwinked by ministers and officials of water and power and health ministries.

It is no coincidence that inflated gas and electricity bills shocked even high-end consumers. People within the system, in the quest for generating revenue for the government, played dirty by simply introducing exorbitant formulas for consumption of gas and electricity. Strange, though illogical explanations followed by ministers and officials, including Asad Omar, Omar Ayub and Ghulam Sarwar Khan.

Similar explanations followed when drugs’ prices rose at least two-fold.

How can a government pretend innocence when consumers at large have to endure three major shocks to their budgets with unusual financial implications? All this happened either with the knowledge of the Prime Minister, or his dodgy ministers and their associate officials acted behind his back to generate revenue for the government in what could be equated to a broad day robbery?

Particularly Ghulam Sarwar Khan and their lackey officials at the Ministry of Water/Power and Petroleum offered strange explanations to the astronomical changes in the power and gas pricing formulas.

Was it an attempt only to raise funds for the government through mischief and please the prime minister, or a conspiracy by the forces of status quo to create discontent and contempt for him among masses?

If it was the latter case, and the ministers bought the arguments by ministry officials, then this proves the incompetence of these ministers and hence had little justification to continue. The Status Quo had clearly defeated them at the operational level.

Clearly , they had either willingly given in to the might baboocracy, or were cunningly duped into policies that have antagonised vast sections of the society because of the direct impact some government decision have had on their lives.

Secondly, moving Fawad Chaudhry , a professional lawyer, from information to science and technology, simply flies in the face of criticism that Khan and his supporters expressed against the previous government for appointing unqualified people to key positions.

This is yet another sign of continuation of the status quo, something Khan had been vocally against all through his career. But political expedience seems to have forced him to bend his principles.

Thirdly, Khan shall have to realise that people at large are fed up with his unending rhetoric against Sharifs, Zardaris and the mountain of debts he says they piled on Pakistan; We really don’t have to remind him that he will be judged by delivery on ground and not the continuous rant against opposition party leaders. If he is convinced that they represent the permanent Status Quo averse to change, they he must know that they will pounce upon every single misstep, inaction or bad decision by the government.

Fourth, as evident from the reported blackmailing attitude of a minister or two, a number of people surround him who undoubtedly represent the traditional status quo. That means, if unhappy, they will always remain ready to jump the boat on the behest of other stakeholders of the status quo.

With economic adversity on the one hand, and a thin majority – possible because of an unhappy Baloch coalition partner, slippery MQM and some blackmailing insiders – on the other, Khan has very few options to assert a reform agenda that is so crucial to the survival of Pakistan as a sovereign country. What happens if Khan too fails? He is certainly at a cross-roads in the face of a defiant status quo. Only smart and bold, though well calibrated, decisions could help him move beyond this cross-roads.

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