So, finally, there’s some sort of paper trail to justify the finance minister’s long absence. Away, quite mysteriously, for more than a month – allegedly gravely unwell and undergoing treatment in London – all that has been heard of him so far was his refusal to let go of the finance ministry. Now, though, he’s formally applied for a three month leave; duly accepted by the prime minister. He will, however, be given back charge of the ministry as soon as his doctors deem him fit to travel. Yet these past few weeks have not been without their fair share of controversy. Surely nobody, even within PML-N, thought leaving the economy rudderless for so long, especially when it’s so vulnerable, was a good idea. Rumour also had it that no less than Shahbaz Sharif and Khaqan Abbasi lobbied for his replacement. That was when reports appeared that Ahsan Iqbal might be given the finance portfolio as well. But that was also when Nawaz Sharif sprang into action. Once again the official machinery was mobilised to rubbish ‘rumours’ of the resignation. The matter became more controversial because of the cases against Dar, of course, and that the timing of his sudden illness matched, so perfectly, the opening of NAB references against him. And now that he’s been declared a proclaimed offender and there’s a non-bailable arrest warrant out for him, he has a lot more on his plate than just the finance ministry. Yet, even with Dar on formal leave, things are far from clear and a number of issues still need to be settled. One, how long can he really stay away? Already the manner of his departure has given weight to opposition criticism that he has run away just to avoid the axe of the court. But there’s only so long things can be kept this way. The NAB reference has a six-month bar and one way or the other the verdict will be out before the next election. Also, that’s more than he’s been granted a leave for. Hopefully his heart will be strong enough come judgment time. The deficit is the highest in our history with revenue generation no better than when PML-N came to power. Resultantly we are borrowing even for every day running of the government. Almost everybody outside the ruling party is convinced that, despite tall promises, Pakistan will have to return to the IMF; most likely before the general election Two, what did he, or Nawaz Sharif for that matter, gain by letting the mystery deepen for so long? Why did he have to leave so abruptly and so mysteriously? Surely it would have been better if the script had been played out later – finance minister suddenly gravely unwell, needs long rest, hence three-month leave, etc. Why let it linger and let opposition doubts snowball before accepting the inevitable? Three, is anybody looking after the economy? First there were rumours of Ahsan Iqbal getting finance, now it’s decided that the prime minister will keep the finance portfolio as well. Wasn’t that one of the biggest problems with Nawaz Sharif – keeping important ministries to himself? And, like foreign, finance is also a very important ministry, especially now. Apparently not even everybody in PML-N agrees with Dar’s appreciation with the present state of the economy. The deficit is the highest in our history with revenue generation no better than when PML-N came to power. Resultantly we are borrowing even for every day running of the government. Almost everybody outside the ruling party is convinced that, despite tall promises, Pakistan will have to return to the IMF; most likely before the general election. Ironically, international oil prices – which remained low the past few years and hence gave the economy cushion – are also rebounding, which will have a second-round inflationary impact on the local economy. Trust that to result in increased prices not long before the election as well. Yet the finance ministry will remain effectively without a dedicated minister, with the stand-in PM also the stand-in finance minister. And four, and most importantly, what might most likely be Dar’s fallback plan should push come to shove? The way things are going, it is not very likely that he or the Sharifs will come out unscratched from the references. And, going by the fortunes they have amassed – in front of everybody’s eyes – in the years that they were in power, they are going to have to do a lot of very serious explaining; which they seem unable to at present. For the moment, though, all that can be said with a certain degree of certainty is that, sooner or later, Dar will have to come back and face the cases. His helplessness at this point also highlights the strange, ironic nature of Pakistani politics. It was not too long ago, after all, that he was the closest, of all ministers, to the then prime minister; a bond that was strengthened by developing family ties. He could even put his weight and wield influence well outside the finance ministry. He would regularly interfere in monetary policy. Once, he also became the only finance minister in history to announce a country’s interest rate decision – that too a full day ahead of the central bank. Now, all even Nawaz Sharif could do for him was delay his eventual withdrawal from the ministry and, from the looks of things, fall from grace. Dar’s future might not be too different from Pakistan’s economy after all. The writer is the Managing Editor, Daily Times, tweets @yourafiq and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, November 25th 2017.