In a sweeping move, Prime Minister Imran Khan axed Asad Umar – one of his most important ministers and party stalwarts – yesterday ahead of a crucial bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The outgoing finance minister told a news conference earlier in the day that he was stepping down after the prime minister offered him the energy ministry in a cabinet reshuffle.
Umar eventually requested, and was granted, the option of not taking any ministry.
The outgoing minister tweeted: “As part of a cabinet reshuffle, PM desired that I take the energy minister portfolio instead of finance. However, I have obtained his consent to not take any cabinet position. I strongly believe @ImranKhanPTI is the best hope for Pakistan and inshallah (God willing) will make a naya (new) Pakistan.”
At a press conference in the capital Islamabad shortly after the tweet announcing his resignation, Umar said that a new finance minister will have to look after a “difficult economy”.
“We need to take some difficult decisions and we need to show some patience,” he said, appealing to the public to “stand with” the new finance minister.
“Don’t expect that there will be miracles and rivers of honey and milk will start flowing in the next three months,” he warned.
Umar dismissed rumours which rapidly began circulating about his removal.
“I am not aware of any conspiracies,” he said.
Umar, the former chief executive of Engro, Pakistan’s biggest private conglomerate, said he strongly believed Khan was the best hope for the country.
“I am and will always be available to forward the interests of this country,” he told reporters. “It was on exactly this date in 2012, when newspapers had announced that I was joining the PTI.”
“Today seven years later, I am giving you this news. It has been a wonderful journey of seven years and I will continue this journey,” the outgoing minister said. “I need to thank the PTI’s youth for their enthusiasm.
“I need to say that when we came in, the economy was in a dangerous and sorry state, we were standing near a ditch, one move and we would have been in the ditch.
“The state of the economy is still not great [and] the next finance minister that comes in will still have a hard time.
“What I want is that whoever comes in is supported when they make difficult decisions for the sake of the nation.”
Umar had been facing immense pressure for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s apparent lack of fiscal direction over his short-lived eight-month term.
In his stead, veteran economist Abdul Hafeez Sheikh has been named the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance.
A former finance minister himself, Sheikh brings rich experience to the job, having worked for the World Bank where he advised 21 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America.
The Prime Minister’s Office also announced a major reshuffle of the federal cabinet, which saw outspoken Fawad Chaudhry replaced as information minister by Firdous Ashiq Awan, the former Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) parliamentarian, who had joined the PTI ahead of the general elections held last year, which she contested but lost.
Awan however, has only been appointed as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Division.
Legally, she cannot be appointed a full minister unless she is elected a member of parliament again.
Chaudhry has been named as the new federal minister for science and technology.
Meanwhile, Brigadier (retired) Ijaz Shah has replaced Shehryar Afridi, the state minister for interior.
Shah, who is a retired director general of the Intelligence Bureau, has been elevated to full minister.
The prime minister himself was holding the interior ministry until now.
Afridi has been directed to look after the ministry of states and frontier regions.
Ghulam Sarwar Khan has been relieved of the petroleum ministry and will now be the new federal minister for aviation.
Continuing with the changes, Azam Swati, the former science and technology minister, who was forced to resign last year after being embroiled in a controversy, has made a comeback as the federal minister for parliamentary affairs.
Apart from the ministerial reshuffle, the prime minister has also appointed special assistants.
Dr Zafarullah Mirza will look after the portfolio of National Health Services, Regulations and Co-ordination, while Nadeem Babar will similarly serve as the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Petroleum Division.
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