LAHORE: Few members from former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet are expected to join Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s team as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz decided on Tuesday that the interim prime minister would keep on a “small” cabinet of ministers and advisers.

“The party leadership has decided in principle to keep Mr Abbasi’s cabinet small since it is an interim arrangement (for about two months),” PML-N information secretary Senator Mushahidullah Khan told Dawn.

He said Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif will appoint an extended cabinet after becoming the premier.

When asked whether the former premier had managed to convince Mr Chaudhry Nisar to join Mr Abbasi’s cabinet, Mr Khan said: “Since Chaudhry Nisar has made his political stance public it is very unlikely that he will return to the cabinet.”

Mr Nisar had announced his decision to quit the ministry a day before Mr Sharif’s disqualification by the Supreme Court. The reason he had given for that was his exclusion from consultative meetings on the Panama Papers case. Mr Nisar had also declared that he would not be a part of the federal cabinet in the remaining tenure of the PML-N government.

A party insider told Dawn that most state ministers and advisers of the Nawaz Sharif government were unlikely to return to Mr Abbasi’s cabinet. “You will see almost all federal ministers of the Nawaz government in the Abbasi cabinet, but save a few exceptions, most state ministers and advisers will stay away,” he said.

As previous federal ministers are set to get their old portfolios back, the question of who will get the all important interior ministry, remains. “Only Nawaz Sharif knows the name of the new interior minister,” Mr Khan said. However, sources believe that the elder Sharif may hand over the interior ministry to a senior minister as an additional portfolio.

When the PML-N government came to power in 2013, Nawaz Sharif had formed a 25-member federal cabinet including 16 federal ministers and nine ministers of state. Later, a few advisers were taken on board.

Meanwhile, a debate over whether Mr Abbasi should continue to be the prime minister for the remaining term of 10 months has been broiling amid different PML-N camps.

“A [sizeable] number of PML-N MNAs, including some seniors, want Nawaz Sharif to revisit his decision to nominate Shahbaz for the slot of prime minister after he wins a by-election. They are of the view that Shahbaz will have to cross a number hurdles to get to the top slot at the Centre. And even if he succeeds, there is no answer as to the question of who would fill his shoes in the Punjab,” a PML-N legislator from Punjab told Dawn.

Considering the baggage of the Hudaibiya Paper Mills case and the Model Town incident, in which 14 supporters of Pakistan Awami Tahreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri were killed in June 2014, the Sharif family is being “requested” to think over the Punjab chief minister’s nomination as a successor to Mr Abbasi.

Even opposition leaders have been claiming that the former PM wants Mr Abbasi to keep his position for the remaining term. “There are reports that Shahbaz, despite being nominated to succeed Mr Abbasi, will continue to serve as Punjab chief minister,” Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf vice-chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi said.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2017