Asad Umar speaks to the media during a press conference after stepping down as Pakistan's finance minister, in Islamabad on April 18, 2019. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

It only took eight months in power for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf bubble to started bursting. On Thursday, the PTI government’s finance minister, Asad Umar, was sent packing after his dismal performance, as because of his poor policies the country is facing the greatest economic turmoil of recent times.

Umar was unaware of his firing until Thursday morning, and it seems to have even taken Prime Minister Imran Khan by surprise. According to whistleblowers in the power corridors, Umar’s rift with PTI stalwart Jahangir Tareen, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court for being dishonest, was one of the major reasons behind his firing, and the powers that brought PTI into power through massive pre-poll rigging also were not happy with Umar’s performance.

The petroleum and energy minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, and information minister Fawad Chaudhry and others have also been removed in a major cabinet shuffle, and if sources are right, soon other ministers will find themselves on the chopping block.

This is happening at a time when Pakistan is facing a financial crunch and desperately seeking a loan from the International Monetary Fund. PTI won the elections through electable candidates who were asked to join it by the powers that be. So whether this party even remains intact is a big question.

On the other hand, Umar’s firing indicates the bitter truth, that Imran Khan himself is clueless about governing the country. After all, for the last eight months, the masses had been told that Asad Umar was the brain of PTI, but now that PTI has accepted that Umar was not able to turn the tables but, to the contrary, he inflicted irreversible losses on the economy, this means that the party’s fundamental thinking process was wrong from the first day.

Umar Asad’s firing indicates the bitter truth, that PM Imran Khan himself is clueless about governing the country

Umar had no qualifications to run the economy, and his fudged facts and figures kept PTI in a state of hallucination where only Umar was right and the whole world was wrong. The question arises, then: Is it only Umar’s fault that the country’s economy is in shambles?

The answer is no. It was Imran Khan who was reluctant to go to the IMF for a loan and asked Umar to wait, as Khan was sure that he would be able to run the economy through the donations from his fan club. Since countries are not run merely on donations or the charities of fan clubs, Khan was proved wrong, and by the time he gave approval to Umar to go for a loan from the IMF, it was too late.

The idea to devalue the currency in order to improve exports also went horribly wrong, as for the last eight months Pakistan has seen no improvement in exports. The devaluation of the Pakistani rupee also resulted in inflation, and now when there is no way out but to accept the terms and conditions of the IMF, with inflation expected to go almost out of control as a result.

Asad Umar was incompetent, but he was chosen by Imran Khan, and most of his decisions had Khan’s backing, so if Umar has gone, Khan too needs to go, as the losses his government has inflicted on the economy and the political fabric of society are becoming irreversible.

Perhaps it is the beginning of the end for this government that came to power with the help of the military establishment and by stealing the mandate of the masses of Punjab province. The powers who helped PTI grab the government are also losing their patience, and Khan, with a major reshuffle in his cabinet just a month before the budget announcement, seems helpless. It will not be easy for the new finance minister and the new cabinet to address the country’s economic woes and political instability.

This has been the problem with Pakistan, that each and every time the blame has been put on the shoulders of politicians, while the powers who stage direct or indirect coups and hijack the mandate of the masses are always hidden behind the shields of patriotism and contempt. One can criticize Khan and his cabinet of inefficiency and the lack of capacity to address the issues, but the fact remains that Khan would not have been in power had the invisible forces not intervened and engineered the political discourse.

It was expected that the artificial bubble in which the PTI government operated would burst sooner or later, but no one expected it to burst within a mere eight months despite the fact that the opposition is not imposing any great threats. In fact, the pro-democratic political parties have played it smart – they kept their silence and let Imran Khan and his government rule the country as they knew PTI was not capable of governing for long.

So now Pakistan is faced with a serious economic and political crisis. If the invisible forces want to save face, they will need to sacrifice Khan and his government within a few months. But the problem is that calling fresh elections could mean the return of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to power in Punjab and the center.

The establishment is gradually getting ensnared in its own trap and it is trying to escape by putting all the blame of Khan’s PTI government. Khan still has a  chance if somehow he can revert to the democratic forces, but with his narcissist approach and his inability to read the writing on the wall, few expect that he will ever try to stand with the democratic forces.

The opposition, on the other hand, is playing its cards well and knows there are only two options left for the establishment. It will rather be forced to hold a new election or it will come into the open by imposing a coup or declaring an emergency and forming a new government. The problem is that if the establishment cannot hold it together with Khan as its face, a man who is popular with the younger generation, then of course it will not be able to keep this artificial political discourse intact by coming out of the shadows. In the meantime, while the country in this fight for power, it is gradually moving backward, with dwindling foreign reserves and economic inertia.

It was expected – in fact it was written on the wall – that neither Khan nor the establishment would be able to maintain this artificial political discourse, and yet just for the satisfaction of ego and to settle scores with Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz, the establishment gave an artificial mandate to PTI. But the politicians and Imran Khan, who are only puppets, cannot be held responsible for the current political and economic fiascos. Unless the real powers behind the curtains who maneuver the political discourse are held accountable, nothing will change, and Pakistan will always remain a state where the ballot will be stolen to benefit the powers that be.

Imran Khan is just a pawn. To move forward, Pakistan needs to get rid of those who are moving the pawns, those who actually control the political proceedings and are responsible for the destruction of social, political and economic fabrics of society.

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