Talk of caretaker govt in Pakistan as military leadership meets technocrats

Pakistan remained in the grip of speculation that the country’s “establishment” had started consultations over the formation of an interim government, ahead of possible early elections, media reports said.

Political circles were also perturbed by the rumours about the possibility of a caretaker set-up coming in amid calls for early elections, the Dawn reported.

Perhaps it was against this backdrop that top leaders from the main ruling coalition partners, the PPP and the PML-N, declared that they would be more than happy to go for early polls, the report said.

The conjecturing began after reports emerged that former Pakistan Finance Ministers Dr Hafiz Sheikh and Shaukat Tarin, along with former State Bank governor Raza Baqir, had met with senior military leaders.

A source confirmed to Dawn that Sheikh had indeed participated in a meeting with the military leadership in the presence of at least two other technocrats-turned-politicians, who have held top positions in the Finance Ministry in the past.

“The agenda of the meeting was to deliberate over the way forward with respect to the resumption of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme,” the source said, adding that there was consensus on the need for putting up a joint front while dealing with the fund.

“Pakistan needs the IMF loan. We shouldn’t play politics on economic issues,” one of the participants of the meeting was quoted as having said during the interaction.

However, the military’s press wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations, when asked about reports of such meetings, said: “These are all rumours and baseless statements which have no truth.”

Pakistan is in the throes of an economic crisis because of a widening current account deficit and plummeting foreign reserves. It, therefore, urgently needs a bailout package from the IMF, but for that it would have to end the fuel subsidy currently in vogue.

The new government has hesitated in taking the tough decision to end the subsidy and address other structural problems, because of the heavy potential political cost of such moves, Dawn reported.

There is also growing chatter that the government may quit instead of taking unpopular decisions that may hurt the coalition parties’ chances in upcoming polls. Those familiar with the thinking in military circles say the top brass also believes that the current situation is unsustainable, it said.

“The longer this crisis continues, the more acute the economic pain will be,” the source said, while sharing the thinking in the military, adding that the situation was affecting national security.

Rumours that an interim set may be cobbled together were further strengthened by former Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid’s recent claim that interviews of potential candidates for the caretaker government had begun in Rawalpindi.

There are reports of at least two former diplomats also having held meetings with military leaders.

This conjecturing coincided with reports that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was planning to address the nation on Friday, where he could announce tough political and economic decisions to steer the country out of the crises confronting it.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to announce on Friday the date for his planned ‘Long March’ to press for early elections. The long march, it is feared, would add to political instability and eventually aggravate economic crisis.

Senior PML-N leaders have, meanwhile, begun publicly asking the government, which their party is leading, to resign.

PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, at a public rally in Sargodha, said it was better to step down than to burden the people with inflation.

Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, in a media appearance, also said that if no one is ready to take ownership of the tough decisions, then it is better to leave, Dawn reported.

Talking to a TV channel on Thursday, Abbasi, the PML-N’s Senior Vice President, said that state institutions, including judiciary, military and media, should support the constitutional acts of the government.

The Pakistan People’s Party, a major ruling coalition partner, wants the government to complete its constitutionally mandated tenure. However, on Thursday, one of its key leaders began to sing a different tune.

“We will be happy if asked to end the government. We will be thankful for sparing us,” said veteran PPP leader and Minister for Water Resources Khurshid Ahmed Shah told a group of reporters.

Shah said they were carrying a “burden” on their shoulders and trying to save the country from a Sri Lanka-like situation, Dawn reported.




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