PM Imran has a big problem, of too many spokespersons

Deccan Chronicle.  | Asha’ar Rehman

Opinion, Columnists

When the duo left, many predicted that they would be back in the same positions before long.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The days of the quite adjustable spokespersons that the PML-N and PPP were served by when in power appear to be a far cry from the present times. The PTI seems to be forever struggling to find a person who is considered capable enough to strongly convey the message of its government and leaders. Instead, it has so many carrying the label of the spokesperson, sometimes issuing versions of an occurrence that do not even remotely conform to each other.

The party has tried a number of combinations. The tone was set with Fawad Chaudhry as the federal minister for information, along with Fayazul Hasan Chohan as the information minister in Punjab. It was the most notable — and by far the most vociferous — combination a government could have unleashed on its opponents. Both men had to give way to others.

When the duo left, many predicted that they would be back in the same positions before long. It was thought that, while they could both be cautioned and chastened over the reasons that led to their departure, all in all, theirs was a difficult act to follow. Clearly, the standards provided by the two gentlemen with which to measure their replacements did not change.

One remedy the government has obviously tried since the quieter, less chaotic Chaudhry-Chohan days is that it has chosen to multiply its spokespersons. There are now so many in the business of explaining the government’s stances and providing information on official developments that, on certain given days, not everyone gets their desired quota of quotes in the media. And then there are the conflicting stories that all these authorised chroniclers of the government’s doings come up with, and the comical situations these competing accounts lead to.

Quite astonishingly, Nadeem Afzal Chan, who wears the heavy title of a prime ministerial spokesperson, recently came up with the most remarkable of solutions. He was heard irately telling a nagging television host how the people must not believe statements issued by other official spokespersons. So of course, afterwards, it emerged that while he might have assumed the office of spokesperson-in-chief, Mr Chan was actually standing on slippery terrain. There were persistent rumours about his “possible” exit as the Prime Minister’s spokesperson.

Only a few weeks earlier, there was a change of spokesperson in Punjab when Mian Aslam Iqbal, a prominent MPA from Lahore, was given the additional charge of the provincial information ministry. Mr Iqbal has been around for a few years. He established himself as a formidable independent candidate, capable of winning on his own, before he joined the PTI banner. So far, Mr Iqbal has had a subdued presence not unlike his predecessor, Pir Samsam Bukhari, who (unlike his name) could not quite bring the excitement to the office of the Punjab information minister. Mr Bukhari, a former minister at the centre in the Asif Zardari setup of 2008-13, was apparently propelled to this post under the PTI in Punjab on the basis of these ex-PPP credentials. Prime Minister Imran Khan, it seems, has great confidence in these erstwhile Bhuttoists’ ability to ably defend him and his governments. Mr Bukhari was not the first among the bunch of (relatively clean) politicians that the PPP had supplied the PTI with. Neither was he likely the last of the group to be considered for the important spokesperson’s post. But there may be a distinction between the PPPites who easily mingle with the old PTI folks in their new refuge and those who don’t. So far, the old jiyalas with a history of spending time in the Q-League or generally in the Pervez Musharraf camp have had a better record of adapting to conditions within the PTI — with the PTI having routinely been dubbed a continuation of the Musharraf rule.

The current federal minister for information is a case in point. Besides being a product of the Musharaffian experiment in re-establishing democracy in the country, she is trying to press her credentials by reserving the harshest criticism for her former leaders, Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. One can only imagine how poor our knowledge of bad governance in Sindh could have been without the regular updates from our federal minister of information. In Punjab, Pir Samsam Bukhari lacked this high-pitch, and he did not have the Q connection to greater mobility. Only a milder version of his own younger self, he was destined to quickly fade from the centre-stage.

By arrangement with Dawn