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Old faces stage comeback to new cabinet

August 04, 2017

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reviews a guard of honour at PM House on Thursday.—Reuters
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reviews a guard of honour at PM House on Thursday.—Reuters

ISLAMABAD/MURREE: President Mamnoon Hussain will administer the oath to members of the new federal cabinet comprising mostly old faces but with some reshuffled portfolios, with the notable exception of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, at a ceremony at Aiwan-i-Sadar on Friday (today).

Sources in the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) told Dawn that Khawaja Muhammad Asif would serve as the country’s new foreign minister whereas Ahsan Iqbal would be in charge of the key interior ministry in the government of Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

The names of the cabinet members and their portfolios were finalised by PM Abbasi after six-hour-long consultations with his predecessor Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in Murree earlier in the day.

Khawaja Asif to get foreign minister slot; Ahsan Iqbal will replace Chaudhry Nisar

Daniyal Aziz from Narowal, Talal Chaudhry from Faisalabad, Arshad Leghari from Rahim Yar Khan and Junaid Anwar Chaudhry from Toba Tek Singh are among the newcomers in the cabinet.

According to the sources, Ishaq Dar would continue as finance minister whereas Pervez Malik will be the new minister for commerce in place of Khurram Dastagir Khan, who will take charge of the defence ministry.

Marriyum Aurangzeb, Zahid Hamid and Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry are expected to retain their previous portfolios. Mr Hamid was law minister and Ms Aurangzeb minister of state for information in the previous cabinet of the ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. She had replaced Pervez Rashid. Tariq Fazal was in charge of the Capital Administration and Development Division.

The sources said the party’s information secretary Mushahidullah Khan was set to return to the cabinet. He had been expelled by Mr Sharif for issuing a controversial statement accusing the ISI of sponsoring the Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf’s sit-in in 2014.

The sources said that the delay in the formation of the cabinet was because of the reluctance of former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar to join the new cabinet under PM Abbasi. Various party leaders tried to convince him to change his mind, but he remained adamant and stuck to his previous decision.

Meanwhile, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman called on Prime Minister Abbasi on Thursday evening. The sources said the Maulana, whose party is part of the ruling coalition, wanted two ministries for his party.

In the previous cabinet, JUI-F’s Akram Khan Durrani held the portfolio of housing and works. The JUI-F claims that the PML-N had agreed to give two ministries to the party at the time of the government formation after the 2013 general elections.

On Wednesday, the PML-N leaders held meetings at the Governor House in Kashmir Point, but on Thursday, the top leadership gathered first at the residence of Nawaz Sharif in Chhangla Gali and then Hamza Shahbaz’s residence in Doonga Gali.

After finalising the names for the cabinet, Mr Abbasi returned to Islamabad, whereas the two Sharifs continued informal meeting with some party members. Those who attended the meeting included former information ministers Pervez Rashid and Marriyum Aurangzeb, Daniyal Aziz and retired Captain Muhammad Safdar.

The sources said the participants discussed the by-election in NA-120 in Lahore that fell vacant after the July 28 Supreme Court verdict disqualifying Nawaz Sharif for not disclosing his employment and Iqama (work permit) of Dubai.

The meeting, however, apparently concluded without the party agreeing on the name of a candidate. No official announcements were made by the party following either of the meetings.

After Wednesday’s meeting, the prime minister during his brief chat with reporters had confirmed that the party was rethinking its strategy to field Shahbaz Sharif on the NA-120 seat to enable him to replace his elder brother at the Centre. When asked if the party had finalised the candidate for the Lahore by-election, Mr Abbasi said the issue did come under discussion, but still a lot of time was available for further consultations.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has already announced the schedule for the NA-120 by-election for which polling will be held on September 17.

Addressing the parliamentary party meeting, the ousted premier had announced that his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif would contest the election on his vacated seat and then he would take the office of the prime minister till completion of the PML-N government’s term in May next year.

Mr Sharif had nominated Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as his successor, but only for the interim period and till the time Shahbaz Sharif contests the by-election.

However, later the party leadership was forced to rethink its strategy following the demand by some PML-N leaders that Shahbaz Sharif continue as chief minister of Punjab, which is the party’s stronghold, as any drastic changes at this point of time when the elections are just a year away, could prove disastrous for the party.

When the PML-N leaders were busy in meeting, PTI chairman Imran Khan also crossed the venue on his route to Nathiyagali.

A large number of PML-N and PTI supporters, who gathered in Doonga Gali, started raising slogans in favour of their respective leaderships.

Later in the evening, Ahsan Iqbal, Junaid Anwar Chaudhry and Arshad Leghari separately called on Prime Minister Abbasi, according to an official handout.

Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong also called on the prime minister at the PM Office. The ambassador congratulated Mr Abbasi on assuming the office of prime minister and said the Chinese leadership was happy to see the smooth transition in Pakistan and it would continue to support the government in development and prosperity of the country.

PM Abbasi thanked the ambassador and conveyed his good wishes for the Chinese leadership. He said he would work to implement the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as it was being implemented and would personally supervise the speedy completion of all projects under the CPEC.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2017