ISLAMABAD: Old experienced hands in finance and energy, and loyalists like Ishaq Dar and Khawaja Asif, will be the likeliest choices of the newly inducted prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif for his kitchen cabinet.

Of all the PML-N leaders being put in the kitchen cabinet by the political pundits, the white-haired Khawaja Mohammad Asif could well emerge as his aide-in-chief.

A veteran politician from Sialkot, Mr Asif is the son of late Khawaja Mohammad Safdar, who was better known for his closeness with the late military dictator Gen Mohammad Ziaul Haq.

Late Mr Safdar was the chairman of Gen Zia's handpicked Majlis-i-Shoora, which the dictator had constituted after hanging the PPP founder and former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Mr Asif has regretted his father's association with the military dictator on various occasions. It was during that painful period that Mr Asif was introduced to Mian Nawaz Sharif, another prodigy of Gen Zia era.

Before stepping into active politics in the early 1990s, Khawaja Asif had worked as a banker in the Middle East. He has never lost a general election since.

A fierce critic of military rule, he came closer to Mian Nawaz Sharif during the latter’s years in exile in Saudi Arabia for keeping the party’s flag flying in the face of Gen Pervez Musharraf.

But according to a close aide of the PML-N he owes his recent rise in the party hierarchy to his friendship with the billionaire, Mian Mohammad Mansha, who has been given the task of preparing the party's economic recovery plan for the country.

Another financial wizard and award-winning, certified accountant, Senator Ishaq Dar, who made his fortune while serving in various public and private sector organizations in the Middle East during the 1970s, is also a confidante of Mian Nawaz Sharif.

The bond between them has strengthened since the son of Mr Dar got married to Mr Sharif's daughter. Mr Dar has advised the Sharif family on the financial matters of their business in steel industry.

A two-time member of the National Assembly, Mr Dar is now into his third term in the Senate and is set to be Mian Nawaz Sharif's point-man, to look after the challenging economic affairs of the country.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of Taxila is also expected to be a recipe maker in the PML-N kitchen cabinet.

He holds the record of winning consecutively eight general elections since 1985.

Son of an army officer, Mr Khan too came close to Mian Nawaz Sharif under the tutelage of the military dictator, Gen Zia. The bond between them has remained a constant but seemingly has subdued since the drubbing the PML-N got at the hands of PTI in the May 11 elections in Rawalpindi, Chaudhry Nisar's home ground.

Still the leader of the opposition in the previous National Assembly is sure to be part of the PML-N's cabinet.

Some in the party believe that the Rawalpindi election debacle has significantly compromised his position in the party, the reason being he is not as forceful and assertive in the party meetings, as he used to be in the past.

Ahsan Iqbal is another key figure in the PML-N. Like several of his party stalwarts, he too was sponsored by Gen Zia in the right wing politics of the country in the 1980s.

Son of Aapa Nisar Fatima, a national level women rights activist and member of the National Assembly in 1985 on women reserve seats, Mr Iqbal had his initiation in politics as president of the student union of university of engineering & technology Lahore.

He was then associated with Islami Jamiat Tulaba, student wing of the right wing Jamat-i-Islami. He is regularly returning to the National Assembly since 1993 from his hometown of Narowal losing only once in 2002. He blamed his defeat on the then military regime.

When the military truck entered capital on October 12, 1999, Mr Ahsan was busy in preparing ‘Vision 2010’ for Pakistan. He is sure to become part of the PML-N cabinet.

Khawaja Saad Rafiq, famous for his brash and hot-headed Lahore style politics, is also in Mian Nawaz Sharif's inner circle. He is the son of a Muslim Leaguer of Lahore, Khawaja Mohammad Rafiq, who was murdered in the early 1970s. The family blamed the crime on PPP of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

His rise in the party ranks is attributed to his total commitment to the party leadership. He is also counted among the PML-N leaders who confronted Gen Musharraf in the absence of Mian Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Saad started his political career as a student leader representing Muslim Student Federation (MSF), from MAO College Lahore in early 1980s, and later on joined the PML-N. His late father was a small-time businessman in Lahore.

Mr Saad has made his fortune in the real estate business. He is a major stake-holder in the Paragon housing scheme near the new air port of Lahore. The group has many other projects elsewhere in the country. After winning the election of the National Assembly for the third time in a Lahore constituency, Mr Saad is a strong contender to become part of the new cabinet of the PML-N.


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