Pakistani PM appoints 4-time former finance minister Ishaq Dar as foreign minister

ISLAMABAD: Few new faces appeared on a list of federal ministers appointed by Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif as he looked for continuity in pushing through economic reforms under the watchful eye of international lenders.

The 18 ministerial changes notified by the premier’s office on Tuesday, included four-time former finance minister Ishaq Dar becoming foreign minister, and Khawaja Asif reappointed to the defense job.

Ahsan Iqbal will take up the planning role while Azam Nazeer Tarar will head the law ministry.

The only woman in the Cabinet will be Shaza Fatima Khawaja, who has been appointed minister for IT and telecommunications.

Sharif, who was elected to his second term as PM last week, was at the helm when Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund agreed a $3 billion bailout loan accord in July.

Now, he has appointed Muhammad Aurangzeb, the CEO of Pakistan’s largest bank, HBL, to look after the finance ministry, as the government’s first order of business will be negotiating a new IMF deal when the current one expires this month.

Dar told Reuters he wanted to ramp up the foreign affairs role for economics in the nation’s diplomacy as the country tried to secure another IMF deal and shore up external financing from foreign capitals.

He said: “Economic diplomacy is the need of the hour.”

Dar will be assisted by Syed Tariq Fatemi, a Sharif family loyalist and former ambassador who served as special assistant on foreign affairs to Sharif in his last government and will take over the portfolio again. He was also an adviser on foreign affairs during the last government of Nawaz Sharif, the elder brother of the current PM.

Fatemi has previously served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and the EU. He was also federal secretary, the highest rank in the country’s civil service.

Growing economic challenges will dominate the new government’s agenda.

Aurangzeb, who has never held public office before, told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper his primary focus would be to implement much-needed economic reforms and get a new IMF deal.

After taking oath, he said: “No debates, no waste of time — just a steadfast commitment to implementation.”

Inflation touched a high of 38 percent with record depreciation of the rupee currency under Sharif’s last government from April 2022 to August 2023, mainly due to structural reforms necessitated by the IMF bailout deal in 2023.

Pakistan continues to be enmeshed in economic crisis with inflation remaining high, hovering around 28.8 percent, and economic growth slowing to around 2 percent.

Sharif’s first order of business, as he admitted on Monday in his first Cabinet meeting, was taking tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including bagging a new bailout deal from the IMF.

A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.

Iqbal, a senior member of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party who returns to the planning ministry, said that “job creation through entrepreneurial ecosystem with the support of new and modern infrastructure” would be his priority.

An “economic turnaround” was vital through increased exports since Pakistan mostly relied on loans while preparing its budgets, he added.

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The information ministry role went to an emerging PML-N leader, Attaullah Tarar, who said he would promote “positive and constructive journalism,” state-run APP reported.

Other Sharif loyalist and senior PML-N members appointed federal ministers included Dr. Musadik Masood Malik, Rana Tanveer Hussain, Amir Muqam, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, and Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh.

Media mogul Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi, a former chief minister of Punjab and chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, will become the interior minister. Prior to being appointed CM from January 2023 to February this year, he had no political experience but is widely believed to be close to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, and army chief Gen. Asim Munir.

Pakistan’s general elections last month resulted in a split mandate, prompting Sharif’s PML-N and Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party to form a coalition government. The PPP has, however, declined to join the federal Cabinet.

 

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