Red Zone Files: Dark Horse Wins The PM Race

As PM Shehbaz bows out having reached consensus on his interim successor, Fahd Husain lists out the challenges the relevant hitherto unknown caretaker premier will need to address

Red Zone Files: Dark Horse Wins The PM Race

Hiding in plain sight is often the most effective strategy.

Senator Anwaar ul Haq Kakar has won the race to become the caretaker prime minister when he was not even considered to be in the race. Goes to show how much our pundits know. Goes also to show that often a dark horse is the best horse.

Anwaar Kakar may quite possibly be the best choice for this position in these polarised times. He ticks all the boxes. A Pashtun hailing from Balochistan, a parliamentarian with an active track record in the Senate, a centrist who enjoys cordial relationship with all stakeholders, and a well-read and well-spoken man with a strong grip on both domestic and international politics, the senator is well poised to play a crucial role at a time of political uncertainty and governance challenges.

The times we are in need a calm, composed and measured tone that contrasts with the shrillness marking the last so many years

No surprise, therefore, that the initial reaction to his nomination as the caretaker prime minister has elicited a positive response. In the prevailing hostile environment, this in itself is quite an achievement. Senator Anwaar is off to a good start. He will need this tailwind to generate the momentum required to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

Matters of governance always take precedence. But at this moment, the tone he sets at the start may matter even more. The times we are in need a calm, composed and measured tone that contrasts with the shrillness marking the last so many years. The prime minister can use the bully pulpit he has available to him to set such a tone and communicate to the people that the caretaker government intends to indulge in this constitutional caretaking with earnest seriousness. Such a tone comes naturally to the incoming caretaker PM. He may need to ensure it echoes through the whole government.

In fact, the tone may well be a reflection of the style of governance that the new PM may like to adopt. The style encapsulates both substance and optics. The substance is well-known: matters of the economy and especially keeping the IMF programme on track; managing key bilateral relations and ensuring the investment plans from the friendly countries are actualized; providing political and administrative support to the election commission of Pakistan for the holding of credible elections; working closely with the establishment on national security and other matters; and keeping a steady hand on the wheel while political storms rage hard and fast all across the campaign trail.

It is unrealistic to expect them to fix major problems in a few months, but it is not unrealistic to expect them to show clarity of purpose and action to run the affairs of the state

The optics may, in some sense, matter even more. After years of political and governance tumult marked by acute polarisation, the caretaker government has a good opportunity to produce fresh optics that can contrast with the erratic nature of the PTI years and the difficult and rocky months of the coalition government. The caretakers know they are in power for a limited period. This time they are also armed with greater constitutional powers to take decisions. This provides them with a good opportunity to show the citizens what efficient governance can look like. It is unrealistic to expect them to fix major problems in a few months, but it is not unrealistic to expect them to show clarity of purpose and action to run the affairs of the state.

As the caretaker PM Senator Anwaar Kakar, therefore, will grapple with five important challenges:

  • He will need to immediately reach out to all political stakeholders and assure them that he will focus on governing the country while the parties do their electioneering. Given his good personal rapport with all key stakeholders – including the PTI – he should not find this too difficult.

  • He will need to take the nation into confidence about the state of the economy and the medicine that needs to be administered to cure the ailment. This will incur pain on the citizenry, but as caretaker PM who does not need to seek a vote, he is well placed to say things as they are – and do things as they need to be done. As a person well-versed in policy matters and as someone with a good grip on governance issues, Anwaar Kakar has the ability to communicate the reality to the people of Pakistan.

  • His government will have to engage very deeply with Supreme Court, especially after Justice Qazi Faez Isa becomes the chief justice next month. Some very important cases are in front of the Supreme Court, and the PM’s legal team will require absolute clarity from their boss in order to engage with the new CJ and the other judges. As PM, Anwaar Kakar will need a well-respected and reputable law minister. He can, however, continue with the current Attorney General if the AG is available. This would help retain the momentum of the cases already in front of the court.

  • As a senator from Balochistan, he carries high expectations that he will make a substantive difference in sensitive matters. He has earlier served as the spokesperson of the Balochistan government and has a solid grip on issues that matter to the province. In the limited period he has available, he can make a big difference both through substance and optics.

  • He will need to engage in effective communication with the world on matters that relate both to domestic and foreign affairs. The UN General Assembly session is due next month, as are a number of other international events that will require him to present Pakistan’s case in a convincing manner. As a well-read politician with a passion for literature and poetry and as someone who is also a policy wonk, Senator Anwaar Kakar is well-placed to leverage these strengths for the task at hand.

The outgoing Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have done well to agree on his name. Now the ball is in his court.

The writer is a political commentator.