ISLAMABAD – Pakistan on Friday swore in a new Cabinet, following a week of turmoil that included the election of a new prime minister after the resignation of his predecessor, who was dismissed from office by the country’s Supreme Court for concealing family assets.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi’s 43-member Cabinet includes Foreign Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif, who served as Defense Minister in the government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif until Friday, when Sharif was disqualified by the court.
Since coming into power in 2013, Sharif’s government had no foreign minister, though the job was often handled by one of his advisers, Sartaj Aziz.
Abbasi named a young lawmaker, Khuram Dastgir, as defense minister. The move was seen as an effort by Abbasi to avoid confrontation with the military.
Among those included in the Cabinet was Ishaq Dar, a close relative of Sharif who previously served as finance minister. His inclusion came as a surprise because of a Supreme Court order that he be charged with corruption.
Sharif’s interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, was not in the new Cabinet — he had resigned earlier this month over disagreements with Sharif. Khan was replaced by Ahsan Iqbal, who was minister for planning and development.
Abbasi’s government issued portfolios to the new ministers hours after Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain administered the oath of office to the ministers — all considered Sharif loyalists — at a ceremony attended by diplomats, bureaucrats and senior military officials.
Earlier this week, Abbasi replaced the 67-year-old Sharif, who was disqualified by the country’s top court for concealing assets, specifically that his son’s Dubai-based company listed a monthly salary for him. Sharif claimed he never received any of that money.
Sharif’s removal has been criticized by legal experts, who say the Supreme Court judges were influenced by the country’s powerful military, which has had a rocky relation with Sharif.
A.K. Dogar, a top legal expert, said last Friday’s disqualification was an “inappropriate action” by the court and “it will remain controversial for years.”
Analys Zahid Hussain said the ruling was not a judicial coup, but that judges asserted power to show that they were not “subservient to the executive” branch.
Fazlur Rehman, the leader of Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, noted Thursday that Sharif was first dismissed by the president, then a former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, who toppled his government, and last week judges fired him.
Sharif’s party wants Abbasi to serve as an interim premier for 45 days until Sharif’s younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province, wins a national assembly seat in a by-election. The opposition has criticized Sharif’s plan as dynastic and undemocratic ahead of next year’s elections.
Under last Friday’s court order, Sharif has been barred from taking part in politics.
On Friday, Khawaja Saad Rafique, a leader of the ruling party, said Sharif will soon file a review petition in a court to try to get his disqualification reversed.
Asma Jehangir, a respected constitutional expert, has been critical of the country’s judiciary and military for exploiting their powers in disqualifying Sharif. At a news conference Thursday, Jehangir said that courts in civilized countries don’t interfere in the investigation process, but it happened in Pakistan when judges supervised an official probe against Sharif and his family this year.
Also on Friday, Abbasi announced he would set up a committee to look into allegations against cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan who has been accused by a female lawmaker from Khan’s party of harassing her.
Ayesha Gulalai Wazir said Khan was a characterless person, an allegation which Khan’s party rejected.