ISLAMABAD - Constant absence of Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif from the series of recent high level security related meetings has raised serious questions about his role as a minister.

These post-Quetta bomb blast meetings chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were attended by Chief of Army Staff, intelligence agencies chiefs and relevant ministers and advisors except the defence minister .

His conspicuous absence from these meetings has not only been noticed by his party colleagues but also has provided an opportunity to the opposition members to question his role as defence Minister.

Besides the portfolio of minister of defence, Khawaja Asif is also holding the portfolio of water and power as federal minister.

His subordinates in the Defence Ministry had no answer to the query about his conspicuous absence from these high level meetings including the one chaired by the Prime Minister on Wednesday last. The deliberate silence of his staff shows as they had specific directives from their boss not to share details about it with media.

“I have joined the ministry few days ago and am still in the process of catching up with the working of the department,” the ministry’s spokesperson said while questioned about the minister’s regular absence from these meetings.

However, the spokesperson referred to another colleague, who is more relevant for his input, also did not respond to the query about the conspicuous absence of his boss from the recent high level security related meetings.

On being probed about interactions of his boss with other senior officials of the Ministry of Defence, he, however, requesting anonymity replied “People under one roof do interact with each other”. He did not respond when asked about number of meetings the minister had chaired in the ministry since his appointment.

On the other hand, it was learnt that the minister had also missed many meetings of the parliamentary committees on defence. Parliamentary sources told The Nation the committees meetings held so far were attended not by the minister but by the secretary defence. 

PPP Senator and member of the Senate Defence Committee Farhatullah Babar confirmed that Khawaja Asif had rarely attended meetings of the House Committee.

“To the best of my recollection, Khawaja Asif participated in one meeting and that was about the Pak-Afghan border tension”, Babar said, adding in his personal view the role of Khawaja Asif as defence minister has been marginalized because of what he described as ‘vested interest’.

Background discussions with parliamentarians from treasury and opposition benches are of the view that one of the plausible reasons for the defence minister not attending the recent high level meetings is because of his deep differences with the interior minister.

Both the ministers had publicly acknowledged their differences even on the national media. However, despite repeated efforts Khawaja Asif could not be contacted for his comments about not attending the post-Quetta bombing high level security meetings .    

Some members of the ruling PML-N are of the view that Khawaja Asif is paying more attention to $37 billion CPEC related power projects than the defence affairs. He has a huge task ahead to get the country rid of the ongoing power crisis as early as possible.

They maintained that the prime minister has tasked him to concentrate on power projects being executed on war footings to rid the country of power crisis in the country. The prime minister has pledged to bring to an end the power crisis by 2018.

“It is in this background that the prime minister might have exempted the defence minister Khawaja Asif from attending the recent meetings on defence and security,” party sources said while requesting not to be named.

But this could not be confirmed officially and despite repeated efforts to approach PML-N Central Information Secretary Senator Mushahidullah Khan could not be contacted for his comments.

On the other hand, MPs from opposition benches viewed the developments with deep concern saying this was unusual that defence minister has failed to attend any of the meetings about defence and security held last week.

Senator Babar, however, did not agree to this analysis saying he thinks Khawaja Asif has himself given up to assert his position as defence minister . “He better resign as defence minister ,” Senator Babar said while talking to The Nation.

Khawaja Asif was given additional charge of the Ministry of Defence in 2013 to tackle the missing persons case in the Supreme Court ostensibly because of the fear that the Supreme Court would summon the prime minister for being in-charge of the defence ministry.

Consequently, the Supreme Court summoned the defence minister in the said case and he lodged first FIR on the directive of the apex court.