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Agriculture minister's slot sparks debate

September 04, 2004

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MULTAN, Sept 3: A debate has sparked here over the question who will be the agriculture minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, as this is the only portfolio after finance which has been left vacant despite announcement of an expanded cabinet comprising 32 federal ministers.

It is assumed that the ministry of food, agriculture and livestock (Minfal) would be enjoying much importance in an agro-based country like Pakistan where agriculture is reckoned as the single-largest contributor to the GDP.

Local analysts are divided into two groups over the debate that why the minister for such an important portfolio has not been taken from among the 32-member federal cabinet.

One group says the new premier is an urbane banker, who mostly dealt with capitalists in his illustrious career with a foreign bank and, therefore, he gives little weight age to the potential of the agriculture sector.

It further argues that the premier's record as the finance minister also shows that the urban-based industry enjoyed more importance in his economic policies than the agriculture and the fact can be checked through the marginal annual growth rate in the agriculture sector during the last five years, which increased rural poverty.

However, the other group opposes these arguments saying if the agriculture had not been a top priority of the new premier then he could award its portfolio to any of the 32 members of his cabinet, as he has done with several less important ministries.

They optimistically say that it seems that the prime minister is giving the portfolio of agriculture as much importance as he usually gives to the finance. To augment their argument, they point out that among the new federal cabinet members, Jehangir Tareen and Yar Muhammad Rind were said to have done extensive lobbying to clinch the agriculture ministry.

Tareen has been the blue-eyed of the successive governments for the last seven years while Rind had held the portfolio of agriculture in the cabinets of both Mir Zafarullah Jamali and Chaudhry Shujaat Husain. Besides, Jehangir Tareen had also been working as the chief minister's advisor on agriculture for the last nearly two years.

Sources in Minfal said there were indications that the ministry would be bifurcated between two state ministers - one having the portfolio of food while the other of agriculture.

The prime minister was likely to either himself monitor affairs of the Minfal or appoint a technocrat his advisor having the status of the federal minister to look after the matters relating to the agriculture sector.

Sources further stated that Sikander Hayat Bosan and Ishaq Khan Khakwani were likely to be tipped as the two state ministers to run the Minfal affairs. It may be added here that Mr Bosan had already worked as the state minister for agriculture under Yar Muhammad Rind during the last (almost) two years while Mr Khakwani was said to be one of the key architects of the so-called Kissan Package, which the president had announced in June this year.

According to the sources, at some point Hina Rabbani Khar had also been considered for a slot in the Minfal but now she was likely to be inducted as the state minister for economic affairs. About two dozen state ministers are scheduled to take oath on Saturday (today).