Putting special assistants and advisors in their place


The Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) order that disposed of the challenge to the selection of Shahzad Akbar as Advisor on Accountability and Interior set the record straight about the prerogatives of the prime minister in appointing whomever he wishes as advisor, but experts increasingly feel that it also put all the special advisor’s and assistants in their place. Everybody belonging to this special breed of experts, whom nobody less than the PM himself relies on for the effective running of the state on some very crucial matters, has been prohibited from any sort of policy-making, exercising executive authority of any kind, taking important decisions, or even acting as official spokesperson at any forum whatsoever; all according to the honourable court’s interpretation of the constitution and Rules of Business 1973.
Surely that puts the government in a rather awkward position. For the longest time it criticised previous governments for running things through a kitchen cabinet instead of taking all matters through parliament. Yet even though there was more than a grain of truth in such allegations, it is still true that most people in the kitchen cabinet were nonetheless elected by the people. Now that Imran Khan is prime minister, he’s also bypassing parliament and running things in consultation with a core committee of sorts, but the main problem is that an uncomfortably large number of people in this committee is unelected. And virtually all of them have been doing many of the things that the court order says are prohibited under the law. If special advisors and assistants cannot run their own ministries, even though they have the status of a minister, or even hold press conferences, what about all the times that such things have been regularly done?
From now on all these people will be able to do is show up for advice, that too only when specially invited, and then just enjoy all the salutes that their exalted position gets them. But the days when they could throw their weight around are effectively over. The court also directed relevant secretaries to take over in situations where elected people are not heading ministries, which can be quickly expected to lead to a little more friction between the government and the bureaucracy.
That is why legal experts expect the government to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court regarding the matter. While it indeed reserves the right to do so, perhaps it would be wiser to understand what the IHC verdict really implies and do things by the book.