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Pakistan gets new cabinet, Khawaja Asif is foreign minister

The cabinet retained many allies of Sharif, though there was a major reshuffle of portfolios aimed at bolstering support ahead of the general election due next year.

world Updated: Aug 04, 2017 22:27 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reviews the guard of honour in Islamabad on August 3, 2017.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reviews the guard of honour in Islamabad on August 3, 2017. (Reuters)

The cabinet of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was sworn in on Friday, with veteran PML-N leader Khawaja Asif set to be the first full-time foreign minister since the party came to power in 2013.

Khurram Dastgir Khan, who was labour minister during former premier Nawaz Sharif’s tenure, is to be defence minister while Ahsan Iqbal, a Sharif loyalist, is set to be the interior minister.

President Mamnoon Hussain administered the oath to the ministers during a ceremony at the President House in Islamabad a week after Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court for dishonesty in declaring his assets.

Ishaq Dar, the finance minister under Sharif, returned in the same role despite a criminal investigation ordered against him by the top court. Darshan Lal became the first Hindu minister in more than two decades, with Abbasi appointing him to lead coordination between the four provinces.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the powerful former interior minister, resigned earlier this month over disagreements with Sharf and refused to join the new cabinet.

The cabinet retained many allies of Sharif though there was a major reshuffle of portfolios aimed at bolstering support ahead of the general election due next year. It has 43 members, including 27 federal ministers and 16 ministers of state.

The members and their portfolios were finalised by Abbasi during a six-hour meeting on Thursday with Sharif and his brother, Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif, in the resort town of Murree.

There was no formal announcement on the portfolios, but news channels widely reported the ministries allocated to the cabinet members. The portfolios of several ministers from the previous dispensation were changed.

Khawaja Asif, 67, a staunch Sharif ally and former banker, earlier held the defence and power ministries. Last September, he had warned Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons to annihilate India if the country’s survival is threatened.

Sharif retained the foreign affairs portfolio and Pakistan was without a full-time foreign minister for the past four years. The job was handled by Sartaj Aziz, who was adviser on foreign affairs.

Ahsan Iqbal, 58, began his political career in the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami and has an MBA from Wharton. He is considered a surprise choice for the interior ministry as has focussed on development and earlier led a commission overseeing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Khurram Dastigir Khan, 47, one of the younger generation of PML-N leaders, was the surprise pick for the defence portfolio. He studied electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and is considered a Sharif loyalist.

But no decision has apparently been made by the PML-N on whether Abbasi, 58, will stay as premier or step aside after about two months to make way for Shehbaz.

Since Abbasi’s election, the PML-N leadership no longer seems sure about that plan, as some fear Shehbaz’s departure from Punjab could weaken the party’s grip on its core base.

Abbasi has indicated key decisions will flow from Sharif, cementing the view of the toppled leader as the power behind the throne.

(With inputs from agencies)