Pakistan’s Imran Khan defends cabinet shakeup as political uncertainty looms

Khan said whoever was not beneficial for his country, he would bring in someone who was. (Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2019
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Pakistan’s Imran Khan defends cabinet shakeup as political uncertainty looms

  • Analysts warn reshuffle will not immediately restore public trust

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan defended his decision to make sweeping changes to his Cabinet on Friday, as analysts warned of a prolonged period of political uncertainty.

The reshuffle, announced late on Thursday night, comes just eight months into his party’s five-year term, and saw key appointments of political veterans widely criticized for their roles in previous administrations.

Khan said he had the right as leader of the country to remove anyone from office if they did not perform.

“I want to tell all ministers: Whoever isn’t beneficial for my country, I will bring (in) someone who is,” the former cricket star said at a rally in Orakzai in northwestern Pakistan. “If a player isn’t performing, we either change the batting order or we change him.

“The prime minister has one mission: To make his team win, and my mission is to lead my nation to victory. For that, I have changed the batting order of my team, and I will do again in the future.”

Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the main beneficiary of the reshuffle, has been made finance minister. He previously held the role from 2010-2013 under the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party when it was in power, and was minister for privatization under former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

Khan also elevated Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, another former Musharraf supporter. Chaudhry will now serve as minister for science and technology, while Firdous Ashiq Awan has replaced him at the Ministry of Information.

The reshuffle had been expected for weeks amid reports Khan had become disenchanted with Finance Minister Asad Umar over delays in securing a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.

Inflation, at its highest for five years, has shocked many Pakistanis who voted for Khan. Pakistan’s central bank lowered growth forecasts last month, and the rupee has lost 35 percent of its value since December 2017.

But analysts warned the shakeup was ill-timed, and would not immediately improve the government’s performance or restore the public’s trust.

“This reshuffle may help settle some internal wrangling and power struggles in the ranks of the government, but in the long run it won’t have any positive impact on its performance,” journalist Zebunnisa Burki told Arab News. “The political chaos created by the reshuffle won’t raise much confidence.”

Columnist and political consultant Mosharraf Zaidi stated a reshuffle just eight months into the government’s term revealed a “dangerous lack of patience” on the part of the prime minister.

“The Cabinet assignments that have been moved around show a contempt for performance. If the problem was poor performance, then why were Cabinet members just reshuffled and not simply removed? This is (now) a government essentially of the Musharraf era.”

Umair Javed, a writer and sociology professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, said the changes had increased “political uncertainty.”

“This sudden and drastic change is not well received,” he said. “It seems like this was not a well thought out strategy … it shows the government itself is unsure about its long-term planning and strategy to deal with chronic issues like the economy.”

It was unfair to assess the performance of any ministry after a mere eight months, Javed added, especially when the government had promised major structural reforms to steer the country out of crisis.

“The government still has time to decide its direction,” he said. “Otherwise the people will have no choice but to pour onto the streets against it.”


Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

Dr. Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, General Director of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, speaks during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on July 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 58 min 11 sec ago
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Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

  • Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people

WASHINGTON: Brain scans of about 40 US diplomats injured in mysterious circumstances in Cuba reveal visible differences compared to those in a control group, researchers who analyzed them said Tuesday.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by professors at the University of Pennsylvania, does not draw any conclusions about the cause of the symptoms suffered by the diplomats from late 2016 into May 2018.
But the MRIs of the patients confirm that “something happened to the brains of these people,” Ragini Verma, a professor of radiology at UPenn and co-author of the study, told AFP.
“It’s not imagined,” she said. “All I can say is that there is a truth to be found.”
Verma added: “Whatever happened was not due to a pre-existing condition, because we test for that.”
From late 2016, diplomats posted in Havana and some of their family members suffered unexplained symptoms ranging from poor balance and vertigo to lack of coordination, unusual eye movements, anxiety and what victims called a “cognitive fog.”
The United States recalled most of its diplomatic personnel from the Cuban capital in September 2017.
Some of them have recovered and returned to work, but others are still undergoing rehab, according to Verma.
The US government never publicly explained the cause of the mysterious illnesses. It neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of attacks using some sort of acoustic weapon, as some US media reported, without offering proof.
Cuba has denied all responsibility for the incidents, which also affected at least 14 Canadian citizens. Ottawa also ended up recalling most of its diplomats from Havana in January.
At the request of the State Department, 44 diplomats and family members were sent from mid-2017 to UPenn’s brain trauma center to undergo MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exams.
Researchers compared those results with scans from 48 comparable subjects in two control groups. The differences are statistically significant and relate to the brain’s white matter as well as the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement.
A State Department spokesman welcomed “the medical community’s discussion on this incredibly complex issue. The Department’s top priority remains the safety, security, and well-being of its staff.”
Verma said it was vital to follow the diplomats and their families over time “to see whether these changes evolve or change.”

Responding to the report, Havana again denied all responsibility in the affair.
The study by the UPenn professors “does not allow clear and final scientific conclusions to be reached,” said Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, head of the Neuroscience Center of Cuba.
Valdes-Sosa told reporters that the study “does not show, contrary to what has been speculated... that the group of diplomats suffered brain damage during their stay in Cuba.”
A senior foreign ministry official in charge of US affairs, Johana Tablada, said that as of now “no evidence exists of any type of attack” against the US diplomats, and called on Washington to stop using that term in such an “irresponsible” way.
Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people.