Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam casts a glance at the new cabinet
The new federal Tricky cabinet formation is a reluctantly stitched patchwork that depicts an unusual number of strange bedfellows. It must, however, be recognised that this cabinet has emerged out of political necessity and the protagonists of this arrangement are quite naturally reluctant. The head of this cabinet is quite clearly a political compromise who has been constrained to apply brakes to his legendary speed and had to take a hastily tread back on one of his very first ministerial appointments. It was quite clear that Shehbaz Sharif was forcibly restrained and he obviously finds such restraints unusually impeding. One cannot but observe that the honed-up administrative skills of Shehbaz Sharif appear rather isolated in the current scenario and his persona reflects his distinct lack of political savvy. The Cabinet presented no big surprises in naming his new cabinet assigning key portfolios to officials from the two parties that combined to oust Imran Khan after weeks of political crisis.
The cabinet is drawn mostly from Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN and the PPP two usually-feuding dynastic groups who combined to force a no-confidence vote that succeeded in removing Imran Khan. The PMLN, which is back in power after almost four years and the PPP, have 16 and 11 members in the Cabinet respectively. The rest represent smaller coalition partners. The new cabinet was firmed up quite later than expected and it encountered its first glitch occurred when president of the country refused to administer oath of office to the new cabinet. This hiccup further complicated the bitterness already reported within the 33-member federal cabinet. Although the oath was taken by 33 lawmakers, the notification carried names of 26 federal ministers and two ministers of state along with the prime minister also appointing three advisers. It was also reported that portfolios of five members of the cabinet, hailing from the PMLN, were still under consideration including Khurram Dastgir Khan, Abdul Rehman Kanju, Riaz Pirzada, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq and Murtaza Javed Abbasi. It goes without saying that the cabinet is the best possible attempt in the circumstances. On the economic front the cabinet includes Dr. Miftah Ismail and Dr. Aisha Ghaus Pasha hold PhDs on finance entrusted to sort out the economic mess. The main issue though is both main political parties are at odds with each other over the selection and assigning portfolios to the ministers. It was accordingly reported that Maryam Nawaz was unhappy for not considering names of veteran party leaders, who have a close and long association with Nawaz Sharif. It was added that many of Nawaz Sharif’s close aides have been sidelined including Irfan Siddiqui, Pervaiz Rashid, Muhammad Zubair, Daniyal Aziz, Musaddiq Malik, Talal Chaudhry, Birjees Tahir, and Zafarullah Khan.
Bilawal Bhutto has not joined the cabinet despite strong indications about it along with another PPP leader, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, reportedly refused to take oath when he was appointed minister of state instead of federal minister. The PPP leadership was upset over the selection of lawmakers and ignoring allies like Balochistan National Party (BNP), Balochistan Awami Party and Awami National Party, who had been given guarantees by PPP about their due share in the government. Interestingly, the ANP and independent MNA Mohsin Dawar did not find any spot in the federal cabinet apparently after JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman opposed his inclusion. The BNP refused to become a part of the cabinet in protest against the alleged firing of security forces on protesters in Chagai last week.
PMLN’s Marriyum Aurangzeb and Azam Nazir Tarar have been appointed the information and law minister, respectively. Ahsan Iqbal, also from the PMLN, has been appointed the planning and development minister. MQM-P Aminul Haque has taken charge as the information technology and telecommunications minister and Faisal Sabzwari was assigned the portfolio of Maritime Affairs. Hina Rabbani Khan, a former foreign minister, Sherry Rehman, former ambassador to Washington and former minister Khurshid Shah are among the ministers representing the PPP in the Cabinet who were sworn in. PMLN’s Rana Sanaullah was given the interior ministry. Bilawal Bhutto is tipped to become the new foreign minister and if that happens then the 33-year old Oxford-educated would be one of the world’s youngest foreign ministers tasked with repairing links with the West that frayed under the leadership of Khan, who accused Washington of conspiring to oust him.
The key question that how long the government will last remains particularly when seen in the backdrop that PTI lawmakers have quit parliament and the former cricketer turned politician has taken his fight to the streets to press for an early election — which must be held by October next year. The general observation is that it will be an uphill task for the prime minister to pull them together in one direction because some parties have local and regional interests and some have national interests. A lot depends upon the handling of economic issues that will help settling down other problems.
The key finance ministry returns to Miftah Ismail, a PMLN loyalist who served as deputy and briefly minister during the party’s last tenure from 2013-2018. He inherits an economy in the doldrums, with crippling debt, galloping inflation and a feeble rupee. New Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, meanwhile, will have to tackle rising militancy and the threat of civil unrest from the huge public rallies Khan has called across the country in the months ahead. He was arrested on drug charges in July 2019 by the anti-narcotics squad in a case that is still unresolved. There were five women in Sharif’s 33-member cabinet, including outspoken Mariyum Aurangzeb returning in charge of information and responsible for selling the government’s message in what promises to be a heated lead up to any next election.
Marriyum Aurangzeb completed her masters in development and environmental policy from the UK and joined PMLN in 2013 when she became a member of the National Assembly after being given the party’s reserved women’s seat. In 2016, she first assumed office as the minister for Broadcasting, Information and National Heritage and during in opposition she frequently appearing alongside Maryam Nawaz. Senator Sherry Rehmanis no stranger to the corridors of power. She started her career in journalism and became youngest editor-in-chief of the Herald. During her political career she served as federal minister for Information and Broadcasting and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US from 2011 to 2013 and became the first woman opposition leader in the Senate. Shazia Marri of the PPP entered the National Assembly on a reserved women’s seat for the first time in 2013 and she hails from an illustrious political family as her father was an MNA and deputy speaker of Sindh Assembly. Hina Rabbani Khar was Pakistan’s first woman and youngest foreign minister at the age of 34 in 2011. During her two-year term, Khar successfully carved out what is described as an innovative foreign policy with an emphasis on the regional pivot strategy focused on improving relations with neighbouring countries such as India and Afghanistan. Dr. Aisha Ghaus Pasha remained Punjab’s finance minister and was nominated for national assembly seat on recommendation of Maryam Nawaz.TW
Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam is an educationist with wide experience