At loggerheads with both, the incumbent military and the government for the sake of “national interest”, PTI’s raging secretary-general, Asad Umar, is well-known for his fiery speeches that galvanize audiences. Despite being the son of Major-General Ghulam Umar, the former FM is an unflinching, vociferous critic of the armed forces. On 27 October, in a presser meant for locking horns with the DG ISI, Umar attributed the partition in 1971 to the Militablishment’s role in politics. While criticizing the military for wielding political influence, he contradicted himself by claiming that it would not be “unconstitutional” if the armed forces were to employ its political influence to engineer the restoration of Khan’s premiership. As a lawmaker, Umar is well-aware of the unconstitutionality of Khan’s expectations; however, his statements confirm his brazen employment of Machiavellian marketing strategies in spinning narratives justifying PTI’s unconstitutional intentions.
While countering the DG ISI’s unprecedented presser, the spinmeister also confirmed a key difference of opinion between the former PM and the spy-chief: the spy-chief believed that the gravest issue plaguing the nation consisted of its overarching economic troubles. On the other hand, as the former PM, Khan opined that the accountability of his political opponents deserved greater priority. Nevertheless, Umar’s crafty reading of the Constitution may be pardonable despite being a lawmaker; but, as the former FM, his defense of the ex-premier’s reduced emphasis on the crumbling economic situation is inexcusable.
Despite the years of limelight received by Umar as Khan’s “economic czar”, the former CEO of Engro had a rather truncated and messy stint as the FM. Upon his replacement after just eight months of assuming office, he admitted that he was ousted by Khan on the basis of his “performance”. In his lonesome presser unaccompanied by any supporting fellow party members, he admitted that it was time to take “difficult decisions”. His resignation not only left the stock market in turmoil in the midst of a dense economic crisis; it also left the media and the public in shock. Both, mainstream and social media were still running snippets from his extremely confident appearance on Kamran Khan’s show on Dunya TV from just a day before. In the interview, he had categorically stated, “Pakistan’s economy is in a much better shape. Our economy is out of the ICU and now, I am opening my clenched fist.” He was shown the door a day later.
Contrary to claims of Umar being against the IMF bailout package, Dr. Ashfaq Hassan, the economist who was also a member of the Economic Advisory Council, highlighted that Umar actually “championed” the cause of approaching the IMF
In an interview following his resignation, he claimed that he was “relieved” after having been on the verge of a “burn out” and “high stress levels” due to “lack of exercise”. After just eight months of being in office, the General’s son had cracked under the immense pressure. According to him, Khan informed him about his ousting through WhatsApp text messages that were exchanged between them on the fateful night of the interview with Kamran Khan. Certainly, only a conniving marketeer can recover from such successive blunders on mainstream media.
During Umar’s short stint as FM, he was Khan’s self-proclaimed “opening batsman”; however, he was inundated with bouncers from all directions. According to leading economic experts, the following contributed to the outgoing minister’s downfall: 1) his indolent “wait-and-watch approach” instead of warranted proactiveness; 2) the need for approaching the IMF for a bailout package despite acquiring multiple loans from friendly countries; 3) his indecisiveness with regards to approaching the IMF; 4) his failure for making progress at talks in Washington, D.C.; and 5) going against the party’s pledges by offering concessions to the elite, such as the Tax Amnesty schemes. Contrary to claims of Umar being against the IMF bailout package, Dr. Ashfaq Hassan, the economist who was also a member of the Economic Advisory Council, highlighted that Umar actually “championed” the cause of approaching the IMF.
Khan’s “economic czar” was well-aware of the brewing economic crisis in 2017; having had a year and half to prepare a mitigation plan. In response to the ousting of his “czar”, Khan claimed that Umar had invested a total of 6 years in preparing a comprehensive economic plan and hence, it was highly disappointing that his performance had been abysmal. As the Opposition’s vociferous critic of the outgoing government’s economic policies, Umar had repeatedly assured the nation on multiple platforms that he was well-prepared for the task at hand. However, it seemed that the financial wizard’s famed solutions were laid to rest within eight months. Nonetheless, the Umar was gracious enough to ask the public to patiently bear the impact of the dwindling economy as the “new team” would need to be “given time” for making “better decisions.”
Another criticism attributed to Umar from local and international sources was that he was considered as being ‘arrogant’. These reports seemed to be in sharp contrast with his prior “humble” image as the brilliant and highly-educated corporate executive. While local instances were commonplace, he reportedly also had “tiffs” with the US Secretary of Treasury as well as the Managing Director of the IMF who described him as “arrogant” and “unprepared”. Unfortunately, the opening batsman’s wicket was embarrassingly taken by Khan days after his return from Washington, D.C., before the actualization of the bailout package as well as the budget. Upon being questioned about his reputation for being “egotistical”, the Czar claimed that he had only received this feedback from the “English-speaking class”.
In an interview in 2017, Umar had admitted that he may be no guru in finance, but he definitely held an “interest in economy”. In informed circles and amongst economists, the most fundamental critique of Asad Umar was that he was not an economist and hence, was largely ill-equipped. Unfortunately, neither his educational qualifications nor his 27-year-long professional experience made him a “financial expert” let alone an “economic czar”. It is safe to say that in Khan’s view, the marketeer’s “interest in economy” qualified him for running Pakistan’s crisis-riddled economy. Many, including Khan’s ex-wife, Reham, claimed that Umar had successfully duped Khan through his “self-marketing skills”. Even journalist Saleem Safi described Umar as a “smooth talker” who could easily fit into any crowd as he had the ability to be “a solider with soldiers, a cleric with clerics, a liberal with liberals, a jihadi with jihadis, and a journalist with media persons.”
Unfortunately, neither his educational qualifications nor his 27-year-long professional experience made him a “financial expert” let alone an “economic czar”.
Nonetheless, Umar’s resignation was a part of a “cabinet reshuffle” that the PTI underwent within its first year of government in order to stabilize its loosening grip on the economy and governance. Days before the announcement, PEMRA issued “show-cause notices” to news channels for airing “baseless propaganda” against the government for reporting this reshuffle. With the cabinet members playing musical chairs, the General’s son was offered the energy ministry, which he firmly declined. Although Umar was well-versed in the energy crisis, his categorical denial unfolded his controversial exit from his former conglomerate.
Upon joining the PTI in 2012, Umar proclaimed that he left his lucrative job at Engro for public service. This claim was rebutted by the late Arif Nizami who confirmed that while Umar was not “sacked” by the conglomerate, he was definitely “eased out” through a settlement due to his poor performance. In order to silence media reports of his dirty corporate past, the litigious General’s son has often threatened with filing “defamation”, such as in the case of the writer Haroon-ur-Rashid.
During a career spanning almost three decades at the conglomerate, Umar was well-known for possessing an infectious passion and zest for his work. His motivational TED talks pandered to a young, educated audience, desperately in need of mentorship and guidance. In a TEDxKarachi talk titled: “Re-energizing Pakistan’s Energy Crisis with Thar Coal,” he detailed the energy crisis faced by the nation and provided pertinent solutions. In another TEDxMargalla talk titled: “Envisioning the Change,” he admitted that his friends found him to be “irritatingly optimistic” due to his “innovative” approaches. He even modified Allama Iqbal’s poetry to form a mantra for the youth: “infuse self-belief in the youth of the country; after that, they can take on the world.”
Umar didn’t just brilliantly market himself for the youth; being the head of one of Pakistan’s mega-conglomerates allowed him to market himself at national-level business councils, economic forums, investment boards, etc.
Certainly, Umar didn’t just brilliantly market himself for the youth; being the head of one of Pakistan’s mega-conglomerates allowed him to market himself at national-level business councils, economic forums, investment boards, etc. While he rubbed shoulders with significant government bodies and politicians due to his tremendous capacity for networking, his company began experiencing unprecedented dips and losses in multiple businesses. After reviewing Engro’s annual accounts for the five years Umar served there as CEO, the late Irfan Husain reported that shares fell by 77% during his tenure due to an “ill-conceived” fertilizer plant that he adamantly initiated – as a result of which losses of 3bn were incurred in just a year. Upon Umar’s departure from the company at a critical juncture in 2012, the annual report stated that, “the very survival of the company was at stake”. According to the late Arif Nizami, aside from this fertilizer project, his string of muck-ups included a halal meat company in Canada, a rice plant near Gujranwala, and Onaaj flour project.
Following these media reports, Engro removed the annual reports of the years 2011, 2012, and 2013 from its website. This served to confirm reports of the “defamation clause” that Umar ensured during his “settlement” upon being “eased out” by the conglomerate. This “early retirement” of Asad Umar was followed by a series of articles in the media that celebrated him as a “corporate titan”. He even justified his exit by stating that, “The greatest men are those who walk away at the top!” Regardless of his claims, Umar joined PTI when the party wasn’t even in the parliament, let alone in the opposition. While legalities may have shrouded Umar’s track record at Engro, his poor performance and credentials as the FM lie starkly exposed in front of the nation.
On March 29, the spinmeister publicly showcased his disingenuous defense of Khan’s “US conspiracy” narrative despite Biden’s indifference to Pakistan’s internal politics. Upon Biden’s assumption of the US presidency, PTI government struggled to make inroads into the White House to the point where Pakistan was depicted as a “dejected lover with low self-esteem, sitting by the phone, ready to sell themselves out if the ringer ever sounds”. As per international diplomatic reports, Biden’s administration felt that Pakistan was no longer an “ally” as it had no foreign policy goals dedicated to AfPak. However, the recent spate of “audio leaks” from an unknown “hacker” unraveled Umar’s integral role in manufacturing this elaborate hoax. It is unfortunate that the humble and inspirational CEO of Engro employed his skills and intellect to formulate a “criminal conspiracy” to further his political interests. Thus, the critics of Khan’s failed “economic czar” who referred to him as “a politician of the Chanakya and Machiavelli breed” stand vindicated today.
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