Umair Ali comments on a much-awaited development
Caretaker PM – It was a very well-kept secret prominently highlighting the schisms and deep polarisation in the country. The intensity of political diversion compelled the national policy makers to settle for a political non-entity to avoid further bickering but unfortunately it has already started. There is no harm in conceding that the choice of Kakar as the caretaker PM was totally unexpected particularly in wake of much stronger and credible candidates that were in the running. It must however be borne in mind that almost all matters in Pakistan take place without any rules of game and their unpredictability is simply fascinating, a fact that has caused more harm than good for the country. The unexpected happenings follow unprecedented gimmickry and one of its cards is to take people for such positions out of a hat justifying it on myriad pretexts. This time round the favourite card that suddenly emerged emphasised that small provinces need recognition in national affairs and an interim PM may go a long way in this direction.
Nevertheless, Anwaarul Haq Kakar was sworn in as the eighth interim prime minister of Pakistan clad in a grey suit on a day that coincided with Pakistan’s Independence Day. He is the second person from Balochistan to spearhead the interim set-up after Mir Hazar Khoso, who became the caretaker premier in 2013. His appointment comes with less than a year left in the completion of his six-year term in the Senate that will conclude in March 2024. It is also mentioned that the senator has a limited political career and not much weight in Pakistani politics though many analysts consider that it could work in his favour. His first task now as the interim premier will be to choose a cabinet to run the country as it heads into an election period.
While he does not hail from a traditional political family, earlier some of his relatives had been actively involved in politics. Born to a middle-class Pashtun family on 15 May, 1971 in Qila Saifullah, a district bordering Afghanistan, Kakar is fluent in English, Persian, Balochi, Brahvi and Urdu as well as his native Pashto. Kakar attended a private school in Quetta for his initial education and was later admitted to Cadet College Kohat for intermediate studies. He returned to Quetta and graduated from the University of Balochistan, subsequently obtaining Master’s degree in Sociology and Political Science. After completing his education in Pakistan, he went to the UK for a law degree but returned without completing his studies. Kakar made his electoral debut in 2008 on a PML-Q ticket, contesting polls in the NA-272 constituency but lost to PPP candidate Nasir Ali Shah. Later, he joined the PMLN and served as then-CM Sanaullah Zehri’s spokesperson for almost three years. In 2018, he was made to lead a no-trust vote against his CM Zehri forcing him to step down paving way for the current CM Abdul Qudus Bizenjo.
In the same year, he became a senator as an independent candidate. Soon after, he announced the formation of Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) with the help of Syed Saeed Ahmed Hashmi. At the time, the PMLN and Baloch and Pashtun nationalist parties had labelled the hastily-cobbled alliance of the province’s electables a move of the establishment. He is known to be one of the original architects of the BAP that increased polarisation in provincial politics though it secured power and still holds it rather tenuously. He remained the chief spokesperson of the party that was also serving as government in Balochistan after the 2018 elections, and represented BAP in the Senate as its parliamentary leader for more than four years. He lost the role following a party reshuffle earlier this year. In the Senate, he remained part of key standing committees on finance and revenue, foreign affairs and science and technology, and also served as the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources.
The process for the appointment of the caretaker PM kicked off a day after the premature dissolution of the National Assembly on 9 August 2023. The first meeting between PM Shehbaz and opposition leader Raja Riaz was held on 10 August wherein both the leaders exchanged a list of probable candidates for the coveted slot. The second round of consultations was held during a dinner hosted by PM Shehbaz for leaders of the outgoing ruling alliance. It however appeared that a deadlock occurred resulting in an inordinate delay during which the media had a field day daily announcing names of prospective interim PMs creating tremendous confusion in the country. Many believed that this confusion was deliberately spread to divert attention from the incarceration of Imran Khan in Attock jail. However, it is reported that the hitherto ineffective leader of the opposition came out with a different name and insisted on his name instead of agreeing to the names suggested by the PMLN that included Ishaq Dar whereas the name of Sadiq Sanjrani, Chairman Senate was also floated. This line of reasoning is clearly hollow and is far from what might have happened.
It is precisely this reason that Kakar’s selection will undoubtedly be scrutinised and re-scrutinised in the coming days and will be dissected for its implications for the country amidst the uncertainty that clouds the upcoming polls. It would be appropriate to entertain positive feelings for the new interim PM and it is worthwhile to point out that though he may appear to be an outsider but he belongs to a political party that has worked with both the PTI and PDM. Despite the reputation of BAP as an establishment prop Kakar has carved his own niche and has come out as politically non-controversial and palatable a choice as could be in the present circumstances. It should be no surprise therefore that his selection seems to have been generally well received with even PTI representatives welcoming the decision. However, his political colleagues from Balochistan appear to be dissatisfied with his selection particularly BNP leader Sardar Akhtar Mengal who voiced his opposition rather strongly. It is also reported that many other politicians from Balochistan may follow suit though many of them particularly of Baloch-ethnicity have supported him.
Many observers opine that Kakar would be lured in to extend duration of the tenure of the caretaker administration longer than mandated on one pretext or the other but it will be advisable if he precludes such possibility. He should just focus on getting the delimitation issue out of the way expeditiously and then ensure free and fair elections. In this context he should extend all possible assistance to the election commission to complete the delimitation exercise at the earliest so that elections are duly held. He should bear in mind that his is a constitutional appointment and that the very constitution requires the elections to be held without inordinate delay. Any delay in this respect would go against the directions of the constitution thereby causing serious harm to the already fractious political situation in the country as the country needs a fresh mandate for any dispensation that may exercise its right to govern the country in the light of the electoral mandate given to it. The Weekender