PDM redux

Published March 12, 2024

THE new prime minister has stuck to a safe formula by inducting familiar faces in his cabinet and giving them their usual portfolios, and accommodating allies and benefactors where more deserving people could have been given a chance. The only big change seems to be the inclusion of Muhammad Aurangzeb, the erstwhile president of one of Pakistan’s largest banks, to do the finance minister’s job. He replaces the candidate the PML-N has usually favoured for the portfolio, Ishaq Dar.

Mr Aurangzeb is among three as-yet-unelected members of the cabinet inducted yesterday, with the two others being the former caretaker chief minister of Punjab, Mohsin Naqvi, and a former adviser to the caretaker prime minister, Ahad Cheema. It seems the latter two had to be accommodated for their ‘services to Pakistan’. Meanwhile, Mr Dar, despite his disastrous performance as finance minister during the PDM-led government, has still managed to be shortlisted for another ministry in the new regime.

A big positive is that the cabinet is not as bloated this time as it was during the PDM government. The new government would be well-advised to keep itself lean and focus on dealing with Pakistan’s many crises.

At the same time, it is disappointing that Shehbaz Sharif’s federal cabinet has shaped up to be a men’s club. There was just one exception among the 19 individuals sworn in by President Asif Ali Zardari yesterday — Shaza Fatima Khawaja. She took oath as the only minister of state, while 18 others — including her uncle, Khawaja Asif — were inducted as federal ministers of the new government.

It is difficult to understand why the PML-N would so casually disregard half the population when assigning important portfolios. The omission seemed particularly jarring given the PR campaign around women’s empowerment the party has been running ever since Maryam Nawaz got herself elected as the first woman chief minister of Punjab.

Is the PML-N really so short of capable women leaders, or does the new prime minister find them all unworthy of being given a seat at his table? It is hoped that neither is the case, and more women will eventually be nominated for top jobs.

Meanwhile, Mr Sharif has, knowingly or unknowingly, thrown his old guard a huge challenge. It has become clear over the past two years that Pakistan cannot continue to be run in the manner it has been in the past, and a lot must be done very differently this time around.

Will the PML-N’s old hands prove themselves able to adapt and capable of catering to Pakistan’s much-changed needs, or will we see them replaying their past policies? It does not need to be pointed out that a lot is riding on their success, and the path forward is beset with difficulties.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2024

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