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Another cabinet reshuffle

The rumour mills are running wild that Prime Minister Imran Khan is once again considering a major reshuffle in the federal cabinet, and several key members may be shown the door.

Earlier this year, the prime minister made several changes in key portfolios including finance, interior, and information ministries, by bringing in a trio of special assistants. The cabinet was carefully stitched by individuals from ideologically split and politically diverse pasts including PTI loyalists, coalition partners, technocrats, and those previously affiliated with other parties.

Asad Umar is likely to be brought back in the new team. He was controversially removed from the coveted finance ministry just before Pakistan sought a new IMF bailout. Now Imran Khan wants Umar back in the cabinet and he will likely be given the lucrative portfolio of petroleum or planning and development.

Many party members have complained about the uncooperative behaviour of several ministers to handle complaints regarding problems in their constituencies. Umar also shares these grievances as he has remained idle for a while allowing him to spend more with the people.

Imran Khan has warned that those ministers who don’t perform will be removed. He could certainly do this again. Cabinet members are routinely asked to present their achievements, face intense questioning, and are reprimanded for poor performance.

Some of those who were part of the April reshuffle are also likely to be replaced. Firdous Ashiq Awan, the PM’s aide on information, and science and technology minister Fawad Chaudhry could also be among them. Both have received more media attention and ridicule than any tangible achievements.

Imran Khan is also likely to appease coalition partners in the reshuffle. The law ministry of MQM-P’s Farogh Naseem seems to be safe. Babar Awan, who had resigned to face a corruption probe, is likely to be back as well but is more interested in being a senator. The PML-Q will also be looking to grab a spot.

When Imran Khan formed his first cabinet there was skepticism as several of selected ministers had questionable reputations and shifting loyalties, which was unlikely to bring any systematic changes. These cabinet positions were also not awarded based on expertise, much to the dismay of core party supporters.

The second musical chairs will begin soon. Ministerial positions should not be part of a broader system of reward and patronage to build alliances and influence the political environment. The premier should not replace the incompetent by another, but rather select those with relevant skills rather than just rewarding loyalty and opportunism if he wants to stand out from his predecessors and chug on the tabdeeli train.

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