Miftah Ismail on Friday hinted that his time as finance minister could be cut short, saying that the government has 13 months but he “may not even have that much time”.
“I don’t know how long I will stay, but the government, God willing, will stay for 6.5 years,” he said at an event at Karachi’s Institute of Business Administration (IBA).
“But, to be honest, I work here in a way that I will stay forever. Pakistan will always stay, right? So you have to plan in a way […] that works for the next five years. And then it is the choice of those who come next,” Ismail stated, expressing confidence that the party would win the next election.
The minister’s comments come amid rumours of an internal rift and speculation that the PML-N is considering replacing Miftah with the party’s key financial wizard and former finance minister Ishaq Dar, who is currently in London.
In July, an insider had told Dawn that PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif was adamant about Dar’s return amid the country’s economic situation.
Signs of the purported friction were visible as early as May, less than two months into a PML-N coalition coming to power following the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan through a no-confidence vote.
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz, who was once seen as the party supremo’s heir, had openly endorsed at a May 19 rally in Sargodha Imran’s demand for fresh elections while the new coalition setup was struggling in the face of an economic crisis.
The new regime, since the start of its term, was presented with grave economic challenges and had been under pressure to make a hard choice between going for early elections or taking tough decisions to save the country from default at the cost of losing political capital.
Editorial: To be or not to be
At the Sargodha rally, Maryam had been of the view that it was wiser to opt for fresh elections than burden the masses with price hikes.
“Nawaz Sharif is listening to my speech in London. He will say goodbye to the government but not pass on the economic burden to the people of Pakistan,” she had said.
Maryam’s remarks had come a day after the ruling coalition decided to complete its term, which ends in August 2023.
More recently, there were reports of Nawaz being upset over the PML-N’s loss in the crucial by-polls on 20 seats of the Punjab Assembly — a defeat that paved the way for his party to lose the country’s most populous province to the PTI.
According to a Dawn report, Shehbaz’s son and Punjab’s embattled chief minister at the time Hamza Shehbaz left for London earlier this month to reportedly give an explanation to Nawaz for the PML-N’s loss in the by-polls and him losing the CM’s office to Parvez Elahi, the joint candidate of the PTI-PML-Q alliance.
“Hamza will have to satisfy his uncle for his poor performance being the CM and his father’s flawed strategy in the face of Khan’s aggressive campaign during the by-polls,” a PML-N insider told Dawn.
Conjecture about rifts in the PML-N found further ground after the Shehbaz government announced yet another increase in the price of petrol on August 15.
Following the raise, Maryam tweeted that Nawaz had strongly opposed the decision and even said he couldn’t burden the people further and that he was not in favour of the decision.
A day later, a Dawn editorial said: “It is unfortunate, then, that his (Finance Minister Miftah Ismail) main opposition has come not from the PTI but from a camp within his own party that remains beholden to the ideas of former finance minister Ishaq Dar.
“It seems that Dar has the ear of party supremo Nawaz Sharif and that he has been filling it with some troubling opinions about how the economy really ought to be managed. The Nawaz camp’s hostility towards Ismail also seems to flow from Dar’s well-known contempt for his younger counterpart.”
Most recently, PML-N leader Abid Sher Ali criticised Ismail for his “anti-people” policies, urging him to think of the masses who were “agonised” because of inflated electricity bills and poverty.
In his talk today, Ismail said that even though he was one of the most “unpopular” politicians in the country right now, he would not compromise on the country’s stability or push it towards a default for “cheap popularity”.
He recalled that soon after coming to power, the government took difficult decisions — which included increasing fuel prices and the import ban — as its first priority was to resume the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.
“When we contacted the IMF, they were livid,” he revealed, citing the PTI government’s breach of agreement — when it announced the subsidies on petroleum products — with the global lender as the reason behind it.
However, Ismail went on, with prudent policies “we were able to save Pakistan from a default”.
The minister also said that the scope of the tax net was being increased and the business class was being brought under the tax net.
Talking about the devastating floods in the country, he vowed not to leave the affected people during these difficult times and would be compensated by utilizing all available resources.
For this purpose, Ismail said, the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) funds were being diverted for the rehabilitation of flood victims across the country.
“Flash floods have caused devastation on a large scale in the country. An amount of Rs28 billion has been disbursed through the Benazir Income Support Programme in a transparent manner in order to provide relief to the affected people,” he added.