Pakistan’s new 24-member cabinet was sworn in on Monday, six weeks after politicians loyal to President Pervez Musharraf were defeated by opposition parties.
Ishaq Dar, a key leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was appointed finance minister, while Shah Mehmood Qureshi, an experienced member of the Pakistan People’s party (PPP) of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto, became foreign minister.
Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, a senior leader of the PPP, was appointed as defence minister – a critical job at a time when the new government needs to work with the powerful military to prevent a political breakdown.
Members of the PML-N got key ministries related to economic functions such as commerce, petroleum and agriculture, though Naveed Qamar, a PPP leader and former minister of finance and privatisation, was appointed as the new privatisation minister. The two parties have come together mainly on their common opposition to Mr Musharraf, whose position has been eroded badly in the past year.
A senior PPP leader said the talks preceding the new cabinet were difficult: “These were the toughest negotiations our party has faced ever.” The PML-N’s ability to get most of the economic ministries “is a success for them although they are the junior coalition partners”.
Fawzia Wahab, a PPP member of parliament, said “formation of the cabinet had set the course for a close working relationship between the two parties which would lead to consolidation of democracy”.
Analysts said the new government faced challenges such as dealing with demands for restoring up to 60 judges, including Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, who were sacked by Mr Musharraf in November.
Mr Chaudhary on Monday, for the first time since he was deposed and placed under house arrest, returned to Quetta – capital of the south western Baluchistan province, where he grew up.
Amid chants of “Go Musharraf go” and “Long live Iftikhar Chaudhary”, senior lawyers who greeted Mr Chaudhary promised to intensify their protests unless all the judges sacked by Mr Musharraf were restored.
“The public’s response to greet Mr Chaudhary tells you that this has become a public movement, not just a movement by the lawyers alone,” said Athar Minallah, a senior lawyer.
Mr Minallah said lawyers had given 30 days from Monday to the new government to restore all the judges or face fresh nationwide protests.
Western diplomats said the return of Mr Chaudhary and other judges to their jobs would see them hearing petitions challenging Mr Musharraf’s controversial rule – a step that could eventually force the president out of power.
In an indication of emerging economic challenges, Pakistan’s central bank on Monday lowered its forecast for economic growth to a range of 6-6.5 per cent from a government target of 7.2 per cent for the present financial year (July-June). The slowdown has been caused by falling production in agriculture and large-scale manufacturing.