37-member Pakistan cabinet sworn in, Bilawal sits out for now

ISLAMABAD: A 37-member federal cabinet took the oath of office in Pakistan on Tuesday, just over a week after the then leader of the opposition Shehbaz Sharif replaced Imran Khan as the country’s PM through a post-midnight no-trust vote in parliament.

PPP’s Hina Rabbani Khar, who served as foreign minister from February 2011 till March 2013, was appointed minister of state for foreign affairs in the new government. PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, tipped to get the foreign and petroleum ministries respectively, sat out the cabinet formation. PPP sources said Bilawal would take charge as the country’s finance minister within the next few days.

Khar’s presence in the foreign ministry, even if in a junior role than the one she previously handled, is seen as a positive development by Indian authorities. Sources recalled her remark a few years ago about the need for Pakistan to strengthen ties with India and other neighbours. She was quoted as saying after her visit to India in 2011 that Pakisan needed to accept 26/11 was a sensitive issue for India. “She is familiar with India and comes across as a reasonable leader,” a source said.

The delay in cabinet formation was apparently caused by week-long deliberations to accommodate members of smaller coalition parties that played a crucial role in Imran’s removal.

President Dr Arif Alvi, who had excused himself from administering oath to Shehbaz, skipped the event again, leaving the duties to Senate chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. The oath ceremony was initially scheduled for Monday, but the government postponed it due to President Alvi’s refusal to do the job.

Shehbaz’s cabinet comprises 31 federal ministers, three ministers of state and three advisers to the PM. Of the 31 federal ministers, 13 portfolios were retained by PML-N, nine were given to PPP and the remaining 11 distributed among the other coalition partners.

PML-N’s Marriyum Aurangzeb and Azam Nazir Tarar were appointed ministers for information and law respectively.

Ahsan Iqbal, also from PML-N, was made minister for planning and development minister, while PML-N’s Rana Sanaullah was given charge of the interior (home) ministry. Miftah Ismail, who had briefly served as foreign minister in the previous PML-N government, got back the portfolio.

Several politicians from former President Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP were included in the cabinet, including Khursheed Shah, former leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, and senator Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US.

Some government allies, sources revealed, were unsatisfied over the demands they had extended to the government regarding distribution of ministries and other lucrative positions.

A day earlier, two coalition partners, the Balochistan National Party (BNP) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), had said they would not join the cabinet on Tuesday. While BNP had accused the government of not preventing violent incidents in the province, such as the recent firing on protesters in Balochistan, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman demanded immediate elections. The Maulana was believed to be annoyed over his demands regarding distribution of ministries and some constitutional posts not being met.

The induction of four federal ministers from JUI-F indicate that the Maulana agreed to join the cabinet at the last minute.

Former PM Imran was ousted after being deserted by his party’s allies and a key coalition partner earlier this month. Since then, Imran has demanded fresh elections at every rally, saying the new government was imposed on Pakistan as part of a conspiracy??by the US, a charge Washington has denied. The new government has termed Imran’s claim a “pack of lies”.

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