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August 21, 2018

Cabinet induction of solitary electable Khusro was an afterthought


August 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Among a large number of “electables” who joined the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on the eve of the July 25 general elections and won, only one could make it to the federal cabinet.

Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, a leading member of the south Punjab front which merged with the PTI some three months before the polls, is the lone electable who got a ministry in the first wave of inductions into the cabinet. He will preside over the the water resources ministry.

However, his name did not figure in the original list of the new ministers-designate made public by the PTI. It was subsequently added to it through an official announcement. This suggests that he was not initially considered a preferable candidate.

While several electables successfully contested the July elections, many were routed at the ballot box - particularly those who had switched to the PTI from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

On the other hand, two notable figures who joined the PTI some time before the elections have been included in the initial cabinet selections by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Fawad Chaudhry, the new information minister, affiliated himself with the PTI in June 2016 after he was awarded the party's ticket for a by-election in his native Jhelum, which he had lost. Afterwards, he rapidly rose in the ranks of the PTI, and emerged as a prominent propagator of its policies in the print and electronic media every day. He also aspired for the position of Punjab chief minister.

In forming his cabinet, Imran Khan also opted for members of the PTI “old guard”, including Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Asad Umar, Dr Shirin Mazari, Aamir Mehmood Kayani, Shafqat Mehmood, Pervez Khattak and Ghulam Sarwar.

The latter joined the PTI before the 2013 general elections and had won from the Taxila (Rawalpindi) constituency. The allotment of the petroleum ministry to Sarwar carries special significance. The portfolio had been a favourite ministry of his arch rival, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was defeated by him from two National Assembly seats, NA-63 and NA-59.

Ghulam Sarwar is one of the three committed PTI activists to be assigned powerful ministries. The other two are Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Asad Umar. Mazari, Shafqat Mehmood, Khattak and Kayani have been allotted the somewhat ceremonial cabinet portfolios of human rights, education (already devolved to the provinces, courtesy of the 18th amendment) and national history; health (also devolved); and defence - a vital ministry, but one in which the minister does not have a hands-on role.

The PTI takes pride in the extraordinary number of young MNAs to enter the new legislature on its ticket, but none of them has been selected for cabinet office. To name a few, firebrand MPs such as Murad Saeed, Shahryar Afridi and Ali Muhammad Khan have been excluded from the 21-strong squad fielded by the new prime minister.

He decided to keep his preliminary lineup relatively small and to prioritize the representation to the PTI's coalition partners, so it was not possible to bring onboard many devoted PTI leaders.

However, many important positions are yet to be filled. The cabinet lacks representations of Pakistan's minority communities. No national security advisor has been appointed, while key portfolios like commerce, industry, and establishment have been placed under the control of non-elected advisors.

The ministries of interior, planning, communications, and ports and shipping could not function for any period of time because of their roles in the multi-billion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Therefore, there is every likelihood that the cabinet would be expanded in the weeks to come.

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