New cabinet, old challenges

February 5, 2023

The PTI government has left the province a $3.5 billion debt. The caretaker government also faces challenges like a deteriorating law and order situation and a struggling economy

New cabinet, old challenges


t took longer than 24 hours to clear the debris following the blast in a Peshawar mosque as the authorities lacked the equipment needed to deal with such large-scale destruction. Over 100 worshippers were killed in a suicide attack in a mosque at the police headquarters. This was the first terrorist attack on this scale to occur after the caretaker government was sworn in.

In Afghanistan next door, US and coalition forces have exited, leaving behind weapons worth $7 billion. At home, the PTI government has left the province a $3.5 billion debt. The caretaker government also faces major challenges of a deteriorating law and order situation and a struggling economy.

The suicide bombing at a mosque within the Peshawar Police Headquarters is a stark reminder of the worsening state of law and order. It has also raised doubts about the ability of the caretaker government to hold credible elections.

Let’s take a look at the caretaker cabinet and its challenges. The cabinet includes several prominent individuals referred to as ATMs by their critics. They are known for their financing of political parties, particularly the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. It also has some relatively less well-known individuals. Caretaker Chief Minister Azam Khan comes from a political family and has had a distinguished career as a civil servant. The first meeting he attended as caretaker chief minister focused on law and order and the economic situation. After a decade, it seems that the province has found a capable administrator. The cabinet appears to be well-balanced in terms of representation. The ministers include wealthy individuals, career bureaucrats, industrialists, judiciary veterans and women.

Sources say the caretaker chief minister did not pick any of the people recommended by the PTI or the erstwhile opposition in the recently dissolved provincial assembly. The cabinet includes five members with political affiliations with the JUI, two from the Awami National Party, two from the Peoples Party and Qaumi Watan Party each, one from the Pakistan Reform Movement and one nominated by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Some of the ministers are known mostly for their business interests.

Syed Masood Shah hails from the Malakand district. He is a former inspector general of police. His daughter’s marriage to the caretaker chief minister’s son has established close familial ties between the two. As provincial police chief, Shah always had a reputation for being active and effective.

Ghufranullah, a billionaire from Swabi, has previously served as a senator for the QWP. He owns a substantial business in Karachi. He is also related to Mehtab Ahmed Khan, the former governor and chief minister through his daughter’s marriage to Khan’s son.

Another prominent businessman, Taj Muhammad Afridi, hails from the tribal district of Khyber. He, too, has served as a senator. Two members of his family have been associated with the Balochistan Awami Party. The Afridi family is known in the Khyber district for its influence and wealth.

Once again, the country is forced to focus its attention on the rapidly deteriorating law and order situation in the KP.

Manzoor Afridi hails from the Khyber district. He was previously nominated by Maulana Fazlur Rahman for the position of chief minister. He is one of Rahman’s close confidants and credited with organising and funding street protests and sit-ins. Shahid Khan Khattak from Nowshera is affiliated with the ANP and has previously contested election on the party’s ticket. Muhammad Ali Shah, a native of Swat, has served as the district nazim of from 2015 to 2019. Adnan Jalil is a member of the ANP. He comes from a family based in Peshawar. He is the son of former senator, Haji Adeel and has been active in the KP Chamber of Commerce, where he has opposed the Bilour group.

Abdul Halim Kasuria, the former MPA from Dera Ismail Khan, represented the PML-N in 1997. He later joined the JUI and remains a part of the party. The cabinet also includes Sawal Nazir, an advocate from Bannu, nominated by former chief minister Akram Khan Durrani. Hamid Shah, also from Bannu, has been affiliated with the JUI and is a former MPA. He, too, is seen as a Durrani nominee. Bakht Nawaz, a former tehsil naib nazim from Battgram, is also affiliated with the JUI.

On the whole, the caretaker cabinet has representation from most opposition parties. The business community too is well represented, apparently with the governor’s approval. It is worth noting that a woman has been included in the cabinet for the first time in ten years.

As for the challenges faced by the caretaker cabinet, the most serious problem is in the health system. The Medical Teaching Institutes law has caused disarray and resulted in widespread problems like shortage of basic medical supplies. The appointment of major PTI financiers to governing positions at MTI hospitals has sparked controversy and protests from the medical community. The situation is further compounded by the appointment of a close relative of the party chief, Imran Khan, to a senior position in the health sector. This has led to calls for accountability and transparency. Many hospitals lack senior doctors and essential facilities. The health card scheme has been plagued by irregularities. These factors have contributed to a resource crisis in the province, with numerous hospitals being forced to close due to the health card shortages. This has resulted in a situation where even the largest hospital, Lady Reading, is constantly in a state of emergency. The appointment of a dentist as the dean of the Qazi Hussain Ahmed Medical Teaching Hospital in Nowshera has highlighted the lack of leadership and expertise in the sector. Teachers in most universities are facing payment delays and salary cuts. Construction projects at several universities have been stalled due to a lack of funds.

The arrival of thousands of Afghan refugees following the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will exacerbate the situation and could lead to a catastrophic outcome. Hundreds of Afghan families are migrating to the Pakhtunkhwa every day. It is imperative for the caretaker government to engage with international organisations to address this issue.

Once again, the entire country is forced to focus attention on the rapidly deteriorating law and order situation in the KP. Following a suicide attack on the Peshawar police lines, the caretaker government must make a clear decision on whether to negotiate with the Taliban or initiate an operation against them. Unfortunately, the police seem to lack the necessary funds and weapons to effectively address the rising tide of militancy.

Another significant challenge facing the caretaker government is the task of restoring normalcy in the newly merged districts. If the situation in these districts remains unstable, the law and order problem will persist. This could diminish the government’s ability to hold fair elections. If elections are postponed, a severe governance crisis may arise due to the limited powers of the caretaker government.

The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer

New cabinet, old challenges