On Monday, President Pervez Musharraf swore in 24 members of the new Prime Minister’s cabinet, six weeks after opposition parties swept the elections. According to the BBC News, “Twenty of those who took oath are from either the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).” Reuters, in its piece on the development added, “There is strong speculation the new government will force U.S. ally Musharraf, who came to power as a general in a 1999 coup, to quit within weeks or months.” However, there has reportedly been some apprehension within Pakistani media and political circles that “the United States could try to prop up Musharraf so that counterterrorism operations in the region are not disturbed by the changing of the guard in Islamabad.” Despite such speculation, the country’s new foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, described by the Associated Press as “a suave Cambridge University-educated scion of a landowning family,” told reporters after being sworn in, “I expect from the international community that it will support democracy in Pakistan and will help us in strengthening democratic institutions.” According to the AP, the appointment of Qureshi, a Benazir Bhutto loyalist, may have been “a move that could assuage Western concerns that Pakistan might ease up on Islamic militants.”
Several news sources today, including the Daily Times and BBC News, noted that members of the PML-N wore black armbands during the swearing in ceremony to protest and show their defiance of President Musharraf. According to Pakistan’s The News, “This is the first time in the national history that cabinet members were sworn in with black bands showing protests against the man who is administering oath to them.” The BBC cited PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq, who said that several new ministers served jail terms during President Musharraf’s time in power – including the new Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was sworn in last week. Reuters quoted senior minister Nisar Ali Khan, who told the news agency, “We took the oath because there is a larger objective and that is the restoration of the judiciary.”
With the swearing in ceremony now over, media outlets reported the countdown to the implementation of the Murree Declaration, which promises the reinstatement of the deposed judges within 30 days after the formation of the government, has begun. According to the AP, Pakistan’s deposed chief justice, recently released from house arrest, [see March 25th post] “revved up the campaign to win back his job Monday.” The news agency added, “The return of former justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry to the political spotlight and the pledge of the new government to restore judges fired by Musharraf cranked up the pressure on the U.S.-backed president to quit after eight years in power.” The BBC’s Ilyas Khan further noted that the PML-N, in particular, has been strongly pushing for Musharraf to resign and “is likely to keep up pressure on the PPP, the senior coalition partner, to pave the way for his impeachment by parliament.” With such obvious, “in-your-face” opposition, it seems likely that the president will have no choice but to step down from power. However, once Musharraf does resign, the coalition government will no longer have the common enemy that originally unified them. It will be interesting to watch whether Musharraf’s absence will cause a shift in the newly elected government’s dynamic, considering that the PPP and PML-N have historically been bitter political rivals.
Of the new cabinet, the key leaders are: Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar (who CHUP interviewed recently), Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, and, of course, PM Gilani.