Losing Asad Umar

Asad Umar stepped down from the Government following Imran Khan’s desire. The decision was taken some time ago but was conveyed to Asad the night before. The only possible explanations for this abrupt action are: International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Dum Darood. Groucho Marx had always maintained that if a black cat crosses your path, it signifies that the animal is going somewhere. Asad should have known better. Asad has been a poster boy of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He stands tall, chaste, upright, intelligent, pleasant, and soft-spoken. As a successful technocrat, he came to politics and the PTI to give and not take. Coming from a military family background, he is also an intransigent nationalist who wants to die serving Pakistan. Unlike a professional politician, the greatest triumph of his character was to walk away and choose not to engage in the toxic fallout from this cabinet reshuffle.

We live in a world where the distinction between truth and falsehoodis blurred by exploitation of data for gullible mindsby tangential use of language. However, Khan did not take the decision to pull out his star striker lightly. He had been under pressure from his kitchen cabinet, vested-interest lobbyists, and the backdoor exchanges with IMF for the last few months. In the last couple of weeks, Khan’s biggest ally and Asad’s only reliable backer also buckled under the IMF pressure. Khan had to decide whether Asad goes before or after the budget. Dum Darood helped out with the decision to sacrifice him on a Thursday. Being the Finance Minister of a struggling economy in a besieged political government is a challenge. When the stakeholders are more powerful than the office, a tilt in the balance is enough to show you the door. As a result, Pakistan has seen several of them being surrendered in the last decade. Despite being a close relative and confidante of Nawaz Sharif, Ishaq Dar survived by the skin of his teeth on a few occasions. This Government, however, was supposed to be different. Between a Prime Minister who wants to break the status-co and a Finance Minister determined to make the overdue structural economic reforms, what went wrong? Is it ademonstration of Khan’s proverbial ruthless nature, one of his infamous U-turns, or all the above and more?

Asad Umar, a man with credentials, was chosen to deliver the PTI economic vision. Khan has abandoned him when he had survived the toughest period, negotiated an IMF deal, and his creative managerial skills were due to flourish. A dream was forfeited to the blinkered outlook of the naysayers and the prophets of doom

A fragile economy cannot be managed in isolation. Its needs unequivocal support from the related governance structuresalong with a single vision, viable policies, and measured actions regarding import/export, revenue, taxation, energy, banking, etc. Asad Umar was never given a free hand to pick his own team, subsidiary organisational heads or to implement his own vision. He was always looking over his shoulder for a nod from the boss or to build a consensus with the rest of the stakeholders. In this process, he not only lost friends, but also the confidence of key people, national markets, and institutions at home and abroad. He was just about keeping his boss happy but that alone is not sufficient in a political government. On the verge of burnout himself, it must have come as a relief when Khan stated the obvious.

Despite multi-dimensional daily stresses, economy is like a Test and not a One-day match. Diverse countries including Brazil, Columbia, Greece, Vietnam and Ethiopia have turned their economies around over a period of 5-7 years. What is required is a clear vision and a man with the right skills to deliver it. Asad Umar, a man with credentials, was chosen to deliver the PTI economicvision. Khan has abandoned him when he had survived the toughest period, negotiated an IMF deal, and his creative managerial skills were due to flourish. A dream was forfeited to the blinkered outlook of the naysayers and the prophets of doom. Without staying the course, no one can reach a new horizon if he does not have the courage to lose sight of the seashore.

People die for their beliefs, but the real courage is to live for what you believe in. Asad should refuse to be judged by words emanating from the flawed egos, but accept judgements based on the evidence of actual results. His politics starts now if he has the immortal surge of passion, conviction, and the courage to go to the next level. He should not surrender his skills, values and dreams to the fateful limitations others have placed on their own lives. If anyone accuses him of egotism, there are always two sides to it: when you are wrong and you cannot face it; when you are right and others cannot face it.

Asad Umar is what Imran Khan sells as PTI. He has made an honourable decision by not joining the cabinet. He should take a break (rest, reflect, exercise, fast) for the next 6-8 weeks and stay away from the media (and Khan) pressure to get back quickly. He must turn this apparent adversity into opportunity. Taking his time, after Eid, he has a choice to make: back benches (and frequent travels to connect with the PTI faithful), deputy prime minister or secretary general of the party.

The writer is a Political Psychiatrist based in London

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