Two significant developments in Pakistan have received relatively little attention in India. The first is the virtual sacking of a competent Finance Minister, Asad Umar, just after he had made progress in negotiating an IMF bailout. The second was the appointment of highly controversial former Military Intelligence official, Brigadier Ijaz Shah, as the country’s Interior (Home) Minister. Umar’s visit to Washington came when Pakistan’s economy was again on the verge of collapse, despite significant inflows of money from Saudi Arabia, UAE and China. The IMF’s assistance has reportedly been linked to Pakistan providing it with details of its debt liabilities, including for purchase of military equipment like JF 17 fighters and submarines from China. IMF conditionalities also include politically unpopular measures like increases in power tariffs, imposition of additional taxes and adjustments in fiscal policies.
Getting rid of Umar is, however, not going to make management of the economy any easier, especially at a time when the International Financial Action Task Force is holding meetings to compel Pakistan to end funding of terrorism, or alternately, face sanctions. Infighting within Imran’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party has complicated smooth governance. This, despite the fact that he is evidently not inclined to even move a pin, without consulting army chief, General Bajwa. Interestingly, even Saudi Arabia and the UAE are being tight in opening their purse strings to bail out Imran, unless he follows American “advice”. The Trump Administration wants Imran to get the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and negotiate a face-saving American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Taliban is refusing to oblige.
Imran has also chosen to appoint Brigadier Shah, whom he got elected from Nankana Sahib, as Pakistan’s Interior Minister. Shah has a notorious record as the Intelligence Bureau chief in Lahore and, thereafter, as head of the country’s Intelligence Bureau, who reports to the PM, on issues of internal security. According to former ISI chief Lt Gen Ziauddin Butt, Shah made arrangements for Osama bin Laden’s comfortable stay in the cantonment town of Attock. Shah’s other dubious distinctions included being the “handler” of global terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was released by India during the IC 814 hijacking. Sheikh, thereafter, masterminded the brutal killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl and got refuge in Lahore, where Shah was the Intelligence Chief. Australia flatly refused to accept President Musharraf’s nomination of Shah as Pakistan’s High Commissioner.
Imran will use Shah extensively in political manipulation within Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto voiced apprehensions about her security, which was being arranged by Shah, during Musharraf’s rule. There has been no inquiry about Shah’s involvement in her assassination. A senior PPP leader recently recalled that Benazir had “nominated Shah as her possible assassin”. Shah also had a reputation of splitting political parties like the PPP and PML(N) and then getting them to form new parties. Shah now appears set to undertake “political engineering” to consolidate Imran’s political clout, while further strengthening the army’s stranglehold on Pakistan’s national life. Resort to terrorism against India and Afghanistan will be carefully concealed, crafted and continued, amidst loud protestations of innocence and professed good intentions!