A new beginning

August 20, 2023

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar vows to focus on improving the national economy

A new beginning


ormer senator Anwarul Haq Kakar was sworn in as the country’s eighth caretaker prime minister on August 14.

The oath-taking ceremony was attended by Chief of Army Staff Gen Asim Munir, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza, Naval Chief Admiral Amjad Khan Niazi, Inter Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum and former Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Kakar’s nomination and appointment followed weeks of intense political activity and speculation in Islamabad. Pakistan Democratic Alliance components including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) were all part of the process. In the end, the outgoing leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Raja Riaz Ahmed played a key role.

After several rounds of consultation between Sharif and Ahmed, the name of Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar was revealed on August 13. Kakar is going to be unusually powerful interim prime minister with the blessing of the PDM, which passed special legislation to empower the caretaker setup before leaving the power corridors.

Earlier, names of Ishaq Dar, Hafeez Sheikh, Jalil Abbas Jilani, Gohar Ejaz, Dr Shamshad Akhtar and Dr Ishrat Hussain had resonated in the media. The final nomination was a surprise to many. Many Pakistanis could be forgiven for not being familiar with the former senator’s name.

Major PML-N components PML-N and the PPP had earlier pushed for the installation of their nominees. However, that was not to be.

A new beginning

From the PML-N side the name of Ishaq Dar was thrown up quite early. However, it was soon evident that a consensus was unlikely to be reached and the PML-N did not persist with the suggestion. In fact, several party leaderslater denied that the name had been mooted at all. Highly informed PML-N insiders claimed, however, that Nawaz Sharif was of the opinion that Dar could be very useful in terms of ensuring the continuity of the International Monetary Fund programme. “The economic policies of the government pursued over the 16 months have dented the PML-N popularity. Some PML-N leaders were of the view that if there were somepositive developments, the caretaker prime minister would take credit for those.With Dar as caretaker premier this was acceptable,” said an insider. “However, the government and party leaders realized that no such development was likely and withdrew the proposal.”

The PPP had wanted former foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani to be considered for the office. Jilani was seen as close to former Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani and his foreign affairs expertise was seen as an asset. However, some powerful quarters foiled the PPP attempt. Sources close to the discussions said Raja Riaz Ahmad was particularly inflexible in his rejection of the names proposed by the PML-N and the PPP. After a couple of sittings with the former leader of the house, he proposed Kakar’s name. Sharif was then reported to have agreed without any reluctance.The two then sent the advice to the president for Kakar’s appointment.

A new beginning

Dr Shamhshad Akhtar, the caretaker finance minister, will help him with decisions related to the economy. Pakistan has to make a $1 billion payment by the end of this month. Experts say the government might also have to raise the petroleum prices and power tariffs further.

While Kakar is seen as an establishment nominee, he has been associated with the PML-N in the past. The caretaker prime minister is an articulate person, who started his career as a teacher at a school in Balochistan. He also launched a non-government organisation called Voice of Balochistan. A law graduate from aborad, Kakarhas never disregarded establishment leanings. In 2008, when the establishment was supporting Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, he joined that party. In 2013, however, he joined the PML-Nawaz. In 2018, when the establishment started showing a preference for the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), he joined the new political outfit, which remained an ally of the PTI for three and a half years. Later, it shifted its weight and backed the PDM. Kakar became a senator from the BAPplatform.

Interestingly, the BAP split into two groups last year after the fall of the PTIgovernment. Sources privy to the political affairs in Balochistan say that Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and former Balochistan chief minister Quddus Bizenjo were being supported by certain military leaders while former chief minister Jam Kamal and Kakar had the blessings of a different group. The differences were understood to have led to the split within the BAP.As a result Jam Kamal had lost the office of chief minister.

In the following month, the PPP launched its campaign to invite as many electables from Balochistan to the party as possible. A majority of the BAP leaders appeared inclined towards the PPP for a while. However, Jam Kamal chose in the end to join the PML-N. Kakar reportedly had a pivotal role in bringing the BAP’s electables closer to the League.

Kakar also met Nawaz Sharif in London, Maryam Nawaz in Murree and was seen at a dinner hosted by Shahbaz Sharif to honour Jam Kamal and his allies. It can be concluded therefore that the PML-N was comfortable with his nomination as prime minister.

Interestingly, Jalil Abbas Jilani, Dr Shahmshad Akhtar and Gohar Ejaz, have all been included in the 18-member Kakar cabinet.

Kakar’s nascent government has faced criticism after it announced a hike in petroleum prices on Wednesday. However, the decision was made by the outgoing PDM government which left the announcement for Kakar’s administration. Hopefully, Dr Shahshad Akhtar, the caretaker finance minister, will help him with economy-related decisions. Pakistan has to make a $1 billion payment by the end of the month. Experts say the government might also have to raise further the petroleum prices and power tariffs.

Another shock has been the tragedy at Jaranwala where angry mobs torched churches and ransacked dozens of houses after a Christian man was accused of blasphemy.

The Punjab government was reluctant to issue an early statement about the incident. However, Kakar broke the silence and condemned the incident. He has also promised to take the culprits to task. His statement has encouraged other state functionaries to speak up as well. Containing the menace of extremism, will be a significant challenge for the Kakar administration.

The biggest challenge for him would be ensuring that fair and free elections are held within the constitutionally mandated period with or without a fresh delimitation of the constituencies.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

A new beginning