Punjab cabinet expansion caught Imran unaware

The PTI’s plan to dissolve assemblies hanged in the balance on Wednesday as ‘unaware’ Imran Khan expressed reservations over Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi’s decision to expand the provincial cabinet, potentially dropping an axe on his calculations to trigger early elections within months.

On Wednesday, Punjab Governor Muhammad Balighur Rehman administered the oath of office to Khayal Ahmed Kastro as provincial minister on Wednesday.

The timing of the expansion of the cabinet raised eyebrows as Imran and Elahi – who rules Punjab due to PTI’s support – appeared at odds with each other on the matter as the appetite for fresh elections is heating up in PTI’s circles while Elahi seemed in no hurry to execute the plan, reinforcing concerns that he was on collision course with Imran on the decision.

While the Punjab government signalled its intention to delay the dissolution of the assembly yet again, PTI leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi asserted party chairman Imran was determined to dissolve assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab within the next few days.

In a move that is likely to further sour the political mood, the Punjab government inducted PTI member Khayal Ahmad Kastro into the cabinet, leaving ‘unaware Imran’ surprised as he said the decision to appoint a new provincial minister dealt a blow to the party’s narrative, sources said.

The former prime minister also said that he was not aware of the cabinet’s expansion and expressed his displeasure, adding that the expansion should have not taken place.

“I thought you were being given a department to head,” sources quoted Imran as saying to the new provincial minister.

Earlier, Punjab Governor Baligh-ur-Rehman administered Kastro’s oath as the provincial minister during which Chief Minister Parvez Elahi was also present.

‘Imran convinced polls only way forward’

Meanwhile, talking to reporters in Lahore, Qureshi shared that in a meeting with the party leadership, Imran said that snap polls were the only way forward and for this, the dissolution of assemblies was very important.

He said that Imran had been holding back-to-back meetings with PTI lawmakers in Punjab and after much deliberation, he was convinced that the only way forward is dissolving assemblies and moving towards fresh elections.

“We want that before Ramazan, the election process should be completed and governments should be formed,” the PTI leader said. He added that Imran was clear on his stance that there should be no delay in the dissolution of assemblies.
He said there was also a need for fresh polls due to the country’s worsening economic situation.

It is pertinent to note here that Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Elahi has said that the provincial assembly will “continue the same way for the next four months till March”.

“My stance is the same … I will dissolve [the assembly] whenever he (Imran) tells me to,” Elahi stated in an interview with a private news channel. “That decision has been taken. However, now you’d have to think of its pros and cons. For that, we will have to hold talks.”

Alvi tries to thaw strained relations

Meanwhile, President Dr Arif Alvi forwarded the idea of talks between the PTI and the government in his third meeting with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in recent days.

According to the sources, in the meeting, the matter of scuttling provincial assemblies, PTI's demand for early elections and the views of government allies and other issues came under discussion.

It is pertinent to mention that last week PTI chief Imran Khan gave the federal government an ultimatum to either “sit and talk and give a date for the general elections” or “we will dissolve the assemblies”.‘Imran shouldn’t have left NA’Later, Alvi said Imran Khan should not have left the National Assembly. However, he added that the move increased his popularity.

"If he (Imran) had asked me, I would have suggested not leaving the [national] assembly," he said in an interview with a private TV channel.

He said that elections were the best method to communicate with the masses as they were engulfed in problems and see the polls as a ray of hope. "If the opposition and the government sit down and talk, something constructive can come out for Pakistan," he said and added that the government should focus on controlling inflation and other problems of the people.

Dr Alvi said that there was a state of "panic" on the political scene in Pakistan, saying that dialogue would cool the situation down. "[Finance Minister] Ishaq Dar also has a positive attitude towards dialogue," he said after a meeting with the finance minister earlier in the day.
Talking about the meeting, the president — who belongs to Imran Khan's PTI — said that Dar gave different suggestions about the imports whereas he also proposed measures to save electricity.

He said that the new military leadership was serious about being apolitical. "Now all the responsibility falls on politicians. They should get serious about working together so that problems can be solved," he added.

The president said that when consultations about the appointment of the army chief can take place in London then there was no harm in taking advice from people in the country, referring to his meeting with Imran Khan before the all-important appointment.

"Consulting with everyone is better so deadlock can be avoided which creates problems," he added.

Dr Alvi said that he was convinced that early polls were the best solution to the current crisis.

"People should have confidence that the government reflects their mandate. Whoever wins should have the mandate of the masses," he said.

Shujaat offers to become mediator

Similarly, in another development, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain proposed to become a mediator between the PRI and the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)-led coalition government.

"Damage to the economy can be avoided if politicians stay in contact. If Imran Khan asks, I will personally speak to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in this regard," he told a private TV channel.

He noted that all the assemblies should complete their tenures as even if Punjab Assembly was dissolved. He cautioned that the dissolution of assemblies would trigger a constitutional crisis.

Commenting on PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari's recent visit, the PML-Q chief said the former president had come to his residence for inquiring about his health and nothing more.

"I did not speak about Punjab's situation with Asif Zardari. It is indeed possible that we might speak about Elahi in the future."

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