INTERIM PM: Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and opposition leader Raja Riaz agreed yesterday to name Senator Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar as caretaker premier to oversee elections, the Prime Minister Office said.
Kakar, 52, a little-known politician from the southwestern province of Balochistan, will name a cabinet and head a government to steer the nation through economic and political crises until a new government is elected.
“The prime minister (Sharif) and leader of opposition have jointly signed the advice which will be sent to the president for approval,” the statement said.
President Arif Alvi approved Kakar’s appointment, the president’s office said in a statement.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, a neutral caretaker government oversees national elections, which must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the parliament’s lower house — which in this instance means early November.
The choice of caretaker prime minister has assumed greater importance because the candidate will have extra powers to make policy decisions on economic matters, while the elections may be delayed by up to six months.
The Election Commission has to draw new boundaries for hundreds of federal and provincial constituencies and, based on that, it will give an election date.
Riaz told broadcaster Geo News that he believed elections would take place in February next year, and not as scheduled before November.
Kakar, who Riaz said was the opposition’s candidate for premiership, has been serving a six-year term in Pakistan’s Senate since 2018, but his selection came as a surprise as he had not even been mentioned earlier as a prospective candidate.
His mineral-rich home province of Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest by size, but smallest by population, and has been a hotbed of violent nationalist insurgency for decades.
Kakar is listed as an independent politician by the Senate, but is reported by local media to be a part of the Balochistan Awami Party, which is widely considered to be close to the country’s powerful military.
The military continues to have a huge role behind the scenes in Pakistan. It has ruled the country directly for over three decades of its 76-year existence, and wields significant power in politics.
Political analysts say that if the caretaker set-up stretches beyond its constitutional tenure, a prolonged period without an elected government would allow the military to consolidate control.
The party of former prime minister Imran Khan, who is currently in jail and barred from contesting elections for five years following his disputed conviction for corruption, expressed hope that Kakar would ensure free, fair and credible elections.
“If there are questions over the credibility of elections, there will be no political stability, which is critical for economic certainty,” former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who is currently leading Khan’s party, said in a TV interview.
Economic stabilisation is the top challenge with the $350bn economy on a narrow recovery path after an International Monetary Fund bailout averted a sovereign debt default. Economic reforms have already fuelled historic inflation and interest rates.
Political uncertainty is a factor after Khan’s jailing and ban. There was no violence following his arrest, unlike in May when his supporters went on the rampage, but his continued detention will raise questions about the credibility of the election.
“We first agreed that whoever should be prime minister, he should be from a smaller province so smaller provinces’ grievances should be addressed,” opposition leader Riaz said.
Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told AFP that Kakar “has a limited political career and not much weight in Pakistani politics”, but that could work in his favour.
“This can be an advantage because he has no strong affiliation with the major political parties,” he said.
“But the disadvantage is that being a lightweight politician he may find it difficult to cope with the problems he’s going to face without the active support of the military establishment.”
The country has been in political turmoil since the legendary former international cricket star Imran Khan was dismissed as premier by a no-confidence vote in April 2022, culminating in him being jailed last weekend for three years.
He has been disqualified from standing for office for five years, but is appealing against his sentence and conviction.
Authorities backed by the military have cracked down hard against Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in recent months, crushing his grassroots power by rounding up thousands of his supporters and officials.
Analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, noting Kakar had done courses at the National Defence University — formerly the military’s war college — said he would be close to the establishment.
“It seems that the establishment has struck and they have found somebody who will be watching over their interests rather than that of politicians,” she said.
Data from the latest census carried was finally published last weekend and the outgoing government said the election commission needs time to redraw constituency boundaries.
Asked this week on television if a vote would take place this year, interior minister Rana Sanaullah replied: “An absolutely straightforward answer — No.”
The election commission has yet to comment.
Last month parliament rushed through legislation that gives the caretaker government more power to negotiate with global bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, another clue it may be around for a while. Some analysts think the delay could give time for the main coalition partners — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — to figure out how to address the challenge of Khan’s immensely popular PTI.
“But in reality, delaying the election could simply anger the public more and galvanise an opposition that has already suffered through months of crackdowns,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.
The United States said this week it was watching with “concern” the prospect of election violence, but steered clear of commenting on the widely reported rights violations faced by Khan’s party and his disputed conviction on graft charges and jailing. Instead, it chose to describe it as Pakistan’s “internal matter”.