Bouquets and Brickbats for Nawaz over Cabinet
By Salahuddin Haider
Although the 25-member cabinet formed by Nawaz Sharif seems quite capable of tackling the ticklish problems Pakistan is facing, its composition has begun to
raise eyebrows in certain segments of society. Whether the criticism is based on suspicion or jealousies was difficult to decipher, but the PML(N) chief, in office for the third time, does seem confident of delivering and may in all probability ignore adverse comments.
Apparently it is a please-all mindset that has forced him to group even the minor factions of the parliament like Murtaza Jatoi of the National Peoples Party, Pir Sadruddin Shah of Pir Pagara’s Functional League, and the son of Mushraff’s interior minister Aftab Sherpao. Nawaz has chosen to give an important portfolio of industry to Murtaza, younger brother of the former caretaker prime minister, late Mustafa Jatoi, who was originally a Bhutto believer, but after the PPP leader’s hanging in 1979, had tried to join hands with General Ziaul Haq, and was even offered prime ministership in return for abandoning Benazir Bhutto. But a similar gesture was missing as far as Pir Sadruddin Shah, younger brother of Pir Pagara, is concerned, for he was given an unimportant food and security ministry, and Aftab Sherpao’s son was even more crudely treated.
The Muttehada Qaumi Movement, despite declaring unconditional support to Nawaz, was ignored completely. Whether they had hoped to be included in the government was never explained but Altaf seemed angry complaining that “mohajirs”, the term generally used for the migrants from India coming in the wake of the great divide of 1947, were completely overlooked. He could not hide his discontent by saying that urban Sindh, from where the MQM gets votes, had been totally ignored, which in turn may drive his followers to the discomfort zone. This is a serious warning. Nawaz has even tried to mend fences with a habitual dissenter like the JUI chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, but kept somewhat indiscreet silence over Altaf’s remarks, giving no indication whatsoever of a meeting or rapprochement with a leader exiled since 1991, and who has now acquired British nationality. But Nawaz is not to blame for that. His party is in no position to assert itself in the southern province of the country, where Zardari’s Peoples Party Is sitting tight in the government with a comfortable majority at the provincial level.
His cabinet has two ministers from Sindh, both from rural areas, two and three more from the other two smaller provinces of Balochistan and Khyberpukhtoonkhawa. Most analysts agree that Nawaz had tried to accommodate all the geographical entities, but configuration of his party, winning mainly in the biggest province of Punjab, was seriously handicapped from picking players from other regions.
Within the ruling elite, some murmur was heard about giving extraordinary importance to a particular district like Gujranwalla, just 40 miles away from Lahore, and ignoring less developed regions in the cabinet. As for merits and demerits of the cabinet, certain portfolios, like interior ministry, power and energy, petroleum and above all railways have gone to his trusted lieutenants like Chaudhri Nisar, Khawaj Asif, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and Saad Rafiq. They are all old loyalists and should form a good team. Those close to them, admit unhesitatingly that they all seem determined to work hard so that the promises made to the electorate in elections, are honored within the minimum time limit.
Each of these ministries has problems higher than the Himalayas. Maintaining law and order, with killings in Karachi and Balochistan, and railways almost in a state of paralysis like PIA, and energy section suffering from a fabulous debt burden, demand courage and conviction to look for solutions The foreign affairs, and defense portfolios, kept by the premier for personal supervision, however have efficient and experienced advisers like Tariq Fatimi, a career diplomat, and veteran campaigner Sartaj Aziz, who had handled sensitive subjects in the past like finance and foreign affairs, to supervise the national security and foreign affairs. They both will be working in close liaison with the prime minister, and since both enjoy complete confidence of the man incharge of government in Pakistan now, they should have no difficulty in overcoming hurdles in their respective fields.
Ishaq Dar, has been the best choice in most analysts’ view, to deal with the country’s finance, which is dire straits, overburdened with local and foreign loans. Dar will be on trial and may spend sleepless nights to handle the delicate job given to him.