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April 2, 2008

Nisar to coordinate coalition affairs

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April 2, 2008

ISLAMABAD: Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will be the main "point man" of Nawaz Sharif in Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani's cabinet on key issues confronting the coalition government.

"That's why Nisar has been made senior minister with the additional charge of a couple of other portfolios," a just sworn-in minister of the PML-N told this correspondent. In the previous cabinet, Rao Sikandar Iqbal, who presided over the portfolio of defence, was also senior minister, but he held the office only in name. Unlike him, Nisar will be an "effective senior minister," representing the PML-N in his interaction with the prime minister.

The office of senior minister doesn't exist in the rules, law or Constitution. However, some previous governments had given this post to veteran ministers in view of their importance and worth.

"Nisar will be mainly doing the 'massive political work' that would be required in the coalition government, chiefly concerned with maintaining harmony among the ruling partners," the PML-N minister said.

In coalition governments, there is always a great risk of creeping in of mistrust and suspicions among the partners. This phenomenon may crop up more easily and conveniently when there is not a huge difference in the numerical strength of major components -- the PPP and PML-N -- in parliament.

Nisar has been one of the principal negotiators of his party with the PPP's team of interlocutors as well as its Co-chairman Asif Zardari before and after the Feb 18 parliamentary elections. He will continue to wear this mantle even after his induction into the cabinet. Another PML-N source said Nisar accepted this position at the behest of the Sharif brothers, sacrificing his "old obsession" of having the petroleum ministry.

Nawaz Sharif's other confidants in the federal cabinet will have little time to do the "political work" as they would be exceedingly engaged in their portfolio to make a difference. For example, Dar

will be busy full-time with the Finance Ministry because the main challenge that the new administration faces is how to restore the investors' confidence, generate business activity and make the people feel that it is a different government.

Ironically, five of the nine federal ministers belonging to the PML-N had been prime victims of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) during the repressive period of the Pervez Musharraf regime. Every member of this NAB stung lot had been in the dungeon for more than a year. One of them had even attempted to commit suicide more than once during his incarceration. Nisar, Dar, Khwaja Asif, Sardar Mehtab and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had been in jail for a long time. Shahid Khaqan, who was chairman of PIA at the time of the October 1999 Musharraf-led coup against the Nawaz Sharif government, was an accused along with Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and others in the plane hijacking case. Khwaja Sa'ad Rafiq had to go to jail for a number of times over the past eight years. Not only this lot but none of the other PML-N ministers had been wavering in their association with their party when it was in deep soup. They have been rewarded for their steadfastness.

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