After much ado, Pakistan’s new 37-member strong federal Cabinet took oath earlier on Tuesday. The delay in formation of the Cabinet had given rise to speculation about differences within the coalition government, which have now been put to rest.
The new federal Cabinet of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has 31 federal ministers, three ministers of state and as many advisers to the prime minister. With five women in important positions, the new team of ministers is a refreshing respite from the previous Cabinet of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which was largely male-dominated.
Hina Rabbani Khar of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has been made the minister of state for foreign affairs. Earlier, reports suggesting that PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will be named as the foreign minister had been doing the rounds. But Bhutto’s name was not included in the final list of ministers. It is unclear as to why the PPP chairperson did not get a ministry in the new government.
Reservations within the party about Bilawal working under Shehbaz Sharif may well be the reason for his exclusion. But the foreign affairs ministry has been left vacant (with Hina Rabbani leading it as the minister of state for now), so the possibility of Bilawal becoming the foreign minister following resolution of differences within his party over the matter cannot be ruled out.
Sherry Rehman, former Pakistan ambassador to the US, has been made the minister for climate change. The previous government appeared least interested in handling the menace of climate change, which is why this ministry was given to PTI leader Zartaj Gul who had little or no expertise on the matter. Gul took the Internet by storm in 2019 when she claimed that pleasant weather is a sign of honest rulers and later when she said the term ‘Covid-19′ meant the virus has ’19 points’. The minister’s absurd statements further revealed how an individual with no knowledge on the subject was in charge of Pakistan’s climate change policy.
With Sherry Rehman at the helm of affairs, the climate change ministry will certainly get a new direction. Rehman enjoys an excellent reputation and her services to the country as Pakistan’s envoy to the US and earlier as the information minister (a position from which she resigned in 2019 after developing differences with her own government over media censorship) are acknowledged even by PPP’s rivals. The transition from Zartaj Gul to Sherry Rehman is therefore a sign of better days to come.
Marriyum Aurangzeb, Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N)’s outspoken leader, is the new information minister. Two first-timers are PPP’s Shazia Marri and PML-N’s Aisha Ghaus Pasha who will serve as Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) minister and state minister for finance respectively.
Waziristan Passed Over
While the inclusion of more women in the Cabinet is good news, representative of Waziristan, MNA Mohsin Dawar, who was earlier tipped as the human rights minister did not make it to the Cabinet. According to reports, the establishment had objected to his inclusion in the Cabinet — in which case the claim of ‘neutrality’ becomes questionable.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who appears to consider Dawar his arch-rival due to their differences over Khyber Paktunkhwa’s (KP) issues did not reportedly want him in the Cabinet either. A ministry to MNA Mohsin Dawar would have sent out a powerful message about the government’s aim to heal the wounds inflicted to the ethnic minorities and a departure from the practice of declaring representatives of smaller provinces ‘traitor’ for seeking rights from the federation.
Meanwhile, the absence of a full-fledged foreign minister is likely to generate speculation about whether the PM deliberately kept the portfolio to himself and what this means for the future trajectory of Pakistan’s relations with its allies and neighbours. Considering that former PM Imran Khan had accused the US of hatching a “conspiracy” aimed at a regime change in Pakistan, the new team at the foreign ministry faces a crucial challenge of restoring the country’s diplomatic ties with the US.
(Ailia Zehra is a Pakistani journalist who serves as the Managing Editor of news outlet Naya Daur Media-Friday Times)