Trophy Cabinet

Who will occupy top slots in Khan's government? KK Shahid investigates

Trophy Cabinet
There is palpable excitement, intrigue and a bit of anxiety in the chatter from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). At the time of filing of this report, the party is still a few MNAs short of forming the federal government. In the Punjab Assembly, despite being edged out by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party seems to have enough MPAs on board.

Even so, with governments in both the centre and the Punjab – along with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and an expected coalition in Balochistan – all but ensured, the party leadership has been busy deciding who would be in the prime minister’s cabinet.

Party insiders say that while almost all the cabinet personnel have been finalised, individual portfolios have not yet been decided. The final answer to that question will result in a couple of disappointed figures who might eventually miss out in the PTI-led government.
Party insiders say that while almost all the cabinet personnel have been finalised, individual portfolios have not yet been decided

The permutations and combinations are based on Khan’s inclinations as the prime factor, followed by desires of the party leaders – in descending order of power.

For instance, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi was all but certain to be the Punjab chief minister, only he lost his provincial assembly seat. Then, it emerged that Qureshi would be the foreign minister and replicate the role he played in the Pakistan People’s Party-led government elected in 2008. Or he could get the portfolio of Interior Minister. However, sources close to Qureshi say that he intends to contest in the provincial assembly by-election and get a shot at becoming chief minister. Not only is the Foreign Ministry of no interest to Qureshi, sources say, it would also not be the right message for Naya Pakistan to retain a ‘Purana’ (old) foreign minister.

Unless Qureshi is bent on the CM’s chair, other candidates for the position – which could impact the final composition of Khan’s cabinet – are Aleem Khan, Fawad Chaudhry, Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed and Dr Yasmin Rashid. The latter two would be popular choices, while the former two might be preferred for the federal cabinet.

Having been the spokesperson for the party, Fawad Chaudhry could get the Information Ministry. Khan does not back him – nor does he like him – enough for the Punjab chief minister position, given his previous stances against the PTI chief and the propensity to jump ship.

Asad Umar has practically already taken charge as finance minister, having been questioned over the financial policies that he will pursue and the imminent pursuit of the International Monetary Fund (IMIF) for a bailout package.

Senior party leaders who are set for the cabinet include Dr Shireen Mazari, Dr Arif Alvi and Shafqat Mehmood. While their final slots depend on what happens elsewhere, one of the latter two will likely be the National Assembly speaker.

Dr Mazari is being tipped for the Defence or Foreign Ministry, but that, again, depends on where Shah Mehmood Qureshi fits.

A lot would also hinge on Pervaiz Khattak and where he would eventually be content. Khattak’s name initially came up when the party leadership was discussing options for interior minister, only for him to throw a fit and insisting that he wanted to retain his position as the KP chief minister – and the perks that come with it. Khattak becoming the CM would mean PTI being one short in the National Assembly.

Aamir Liaquat Hussain is all set to get a ministry as well, and whichever he gets will be tainted in controversy. Makhdoom Khushro Bakhtiar will get a cabinet position as well as reward for the defection of Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz.

Chaudhry Sarwar, Ghulam Sarwar, Ali Amin Gandapur and Azam Swati are also looking likely to be a part of the cabinet.

Outside the party, Awami Muslim League (AML) Chairman Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed is all set to be the next Railways Minister, while the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s (PML-Q) Pervez Elahi could be in for a position as well, given what his party can offer the PTI. It is, however, likely that Elahi might be given something in the Punjab in exchange for the coalition.

After a few more days of negotiation and trading, the PTI is expected to reach consensus over names for all key positions. The Punjab is going to dominate the agenda. As the party is expected to form government in two other provinces, and while it looks to capitalise on its gains in Sindh, the PTI leadership has been advised to be more inclusive policy in its final decisions.