ISHAQ Dar
ISHAQ Dar

• Awarded ‘rarely filled’ slot of deputy prime minister
• Insiders say move was on the cards since ‘day one’ of coalition govt; decision ‘jointly’ taken by Nawaz, Shehbaz
• PML-N general council to meet on May 11 to ‘elect Nawaz as party president’

ISLAMABAD: The PML-N government on Sunday appointed Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar — a close confidant of ex-PM Nawaz Sharif — as the deputy prime minister, in a move that took many by surprise, but drew hardly any criticism from its allies.

According to a notification by the Cabinet Divi­sion, the appointment was made by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif “with immediate effect and until further orders”. Mr Dar is currently accompanying PM Shehbaz at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) special meeting in Saudi Arabia.

The appointment of 73-year-old Ishaq Dar as the deputy prime minister raises many questions. The main talking point is around PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif wanting to have his “confidant” in a key position in the federal cabinet to compensate him for the loss of the finance portfolio.

The move was also seen in the context of Nawaz Sharif taking over the reins of the ruling party as its president, a position he had lost following his conviction in the Panama Papers case.

A senior cabinet member told Dawn that the decision to appoint Ishaq Dar was made “jointly” by Nawaz and Shehbaz Sharif. “It shows that there is no division in the party,” he claimed. The minister claimed it was an “old practice” to appoint a senior minister as the deputy prime minister and Mr Dar “deserved” this position being the “senior-most member” of the government.

Another insider, however, claimed that the move was “pre-planned”. At the time of the formation of the coalition government, it was decided that Ishaq Dar would become the deputy PM. “It was decided from the very first day that Ishaq Dar would be the deputy prime minister in the present government,” the source added.

When contacted, senior PML-N leader Irfan Siddiqui told Dawn Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was “fully authorised to give any additional charge to anyone within the government”.

“…there is no harm if the prime minister gives an additional charge of deputy prime minister to anyone,” he claimed, likening the posting to the US system, where the president can appoint anyone to his cabinet.

But Mr Siddiqui rejected the impression that Ishaq Dar was given the key position in the cabinet on the directive of Nawaz Sharif. “There is no divide in the PML-N ranks as all party members consider Nawaz Sharif as their top leader.”

A senior PML-N leader, who did not want to be named, told Dawn that the party called a meeting of its general council on May 11 in Lahore in which Nawaz Sharif would again be elected as party president. “Nawaz Sharif, who was earlier reluctant to hold the office of the party president is now ready to lead the party again…,” he added. Responding to a question, he revealed that senior PML-N leaders convinced Nawaz Sharif to again become the PML-N president.

He said the elder Sharif was likely to become the president because PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and Senior Vice President Maryam Nawaz were busy with their respective government matters, having little time for party affairs. “This is the reason that Nawaz Sharif is once again being made the party president,” he added.

Key Nawaz aide

As a senior party leader and a close relative of Nawaz Sharif, Ishaq Dar is said to be the key confidante of Nawaz Sharif in the party. He served as the federal minister for commerce and investment in the 1997-99 government of Nawaz Sharif and then the finance minister at least four times: 1998-1999, 2008, 2013-2017, and 2022-23.

It is pertinent to mention that when Nawaz Sharif was the prime minister of the country, Ishaq Dar was acting as the de-facto deputy prime minister, heading dozens of government and parliamentary committees as its chairperson.

Although there is no provision for a deputy prime minister in the Constitution, Ishaq Dar is the second lawmaker to become deputy premier since the turn of the century. This position was previously held by then-PML-Q leader Parvez Elahi, now PTI president, in June 2012.

Before his first assignment as a federal minister, Mr Dar was appointed minister of state/chief executive of the Pakistan Investment Board (PIB) from 1992 to 1993. He also served as president of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In 2008, Dar briefly assumed the duties of federal finance minister but resigned from the position after PML-N decided to part ways with the PPP-led coalition government.

He also served as the finance minister in then-PM Nawaz’s government in 2013. He was reappointed as the finance minister of Pakistan from September 2022 till the end of the coalition government’s tenure in August 2023.

Despite being the PML-N’s go-to finance expert for decades, he was surprisingly made the minister of foreign affairs when PM Shehbaz picked his new cabinet in March of this year, with his preferred finance portfolio going to Muhammad Aurangzeb.

The PPP, the main ally of the PML-N-led government, did not raise any objection to the appointment. PPP Information Secretary Faisal Karim Kundi said his party had no objections to the appointment of Ishaq Dar as the deputy premier. “It is the PM’s prerogative to appoint Dar as deputy prime minister,” he said, adding that the move was not meant as a ‘message’ to anyone.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2024

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