On Monday, 16 ministers joined the cabinet of Pakistan’s newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan after taking an oath at President House in the capital Islamabad. An additional five advisers were also sworn in with President Mamnoon Hussain.
The cabinet members feature loyalists of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) – Asad Umar, Shireen Mazari and Aamir Kiyani, who have long been affiliated with the party. Umar will take over the finance ministry, while Mazari will handle human rights issues and Kiyani national health services.
However, other than these three all other cabinet ministers have served previous governments. The most striking among these are the 12 members who served former military dictator Pervez Musharraf during his rule.
PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry, who will be the Minister for Information and Broadcasting, served in a similar role for Musharraf and then again during the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in 2012.
Other senior PTI members in the cabinet like Shafqat Mehmood (Education), Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar (Water) and Ghulam Sarwar Khan (Petroleum) all enjoyed key positions during the Musharraf regime.
Similarly, the new Defense Minister Pervez Khattak and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, both have served PPP governments in the past.
Many of the cabinet members come from Khan’s coalition partners. The greatest beneficiary of this has turned out to be the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which will have two cabinet ministers despite only winning seven seats in the National Assembly.
Among them is Farogh Naseem, who will serve as the Minister of Law and Justice. Naseem is the legal counsel for Musharraf in the ongoing treason case he faces. Members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) – Zubaida Jalal (Defence Production) and Tariq Bashir Cheema (States & Frontiers Region) – also had important positions during the Musharraf regime.
Doubts over ‘New Pakistan’
The presence of “turncoats” who worked under other regimes, including the Musharraf dictatorship, has raised doubts over Khan’s claims of creating a Naya (new) Pakistan. Khan claims to have orchestrated a ‘cleansing’ of the corrupt, but critics says he has surrounded himself with some of the great beneficiaries of corrupt practices from previous governments.
No one epitomizes this paradox better than the Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, who will serve as Railways Minister in the cabinet. He enjoyed the same position under both Musharraf and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) remains the biggest rival for Khan’s PTI.
Khan was flanked by Sheikh Rashid throughout his campaigning for Sharif to be ousted and his rallies against the previous government, despite having once said he wouldn’t even hire Sheikh Rashid as his chaprasi (servant).
The presence of so many players from the Musharraf regime adds to suspicion that Khan is backed by the Army and will comply with the country’s military leaders.
While Khan’s distribution of party tickets before the election was a sign that he was willing to ally with more established politicians to help ensure that his party forms government, many see this as a betrayal of his vow to bring ‘change’.
“These turncoats cannot help create a Naya Pakistan. Yes, it is politics of necessity, but if that is what Imran was going to do from the get-go, then how will his regime be any different to the other parties?” said Naghmana Shahid, a former member of the PTI who led the party’s women’s wing in Isa Khel during its early days in the 90s.
“Khan’s followers and PTI’s voters are aware of the fact that party tickets were given to the so-called ‘electables’ but they are rallied behind the PM because they felt that he himself would keep a check on everything. That’s a lot for Imran to live up to,” she said to Asia Times.
Meanwhile, senior PML-N leader and former Interior minister Ahsan Iqbal said “turncoat politics” would soon be a thing of the past. “There have been many instances in recent elections where veteran politicians lost because they changed party too many times,” Iqbal said. “It is becoming increasingly evident that the masses are rejecting the turncoats and anyone who will change parties just to get into power will be dismissed by the people of Pakistan.”
However, senior PTI leader and former Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhry rejected the concerns. “In 2013, when we fielded candidates with a clean chit, people said these people can’t win elections and don’t have any experience of running the government. And now when there are experienced people at the helm, they are being called ‘turncoats’,” he said to Asia Times.
“You need a certain level of political nous to manage things in a better way, and that is precisely what the names nominated by the PTI bring to the table.”