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Pakistan cabinet tasked with ending economic crisis


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Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced the key members of his cabinet, tasking them with leading the country out of a crippling economic crisis fuelled by debt, spiralling inflation and a feeble rupee.

Pakistan’s 19 new ministers took their oath of office Monday, after an election marred by allegations of vote rigging.

Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb – chief of a leading Pakistan bank, with a background in international finance – was one of the only technocrats to be appointed among a group of Sharif loyalists.

Aurangzeb has stepped down as chief executive officer of Habib Bank Ltd. Earlier he was the CEO with JP Morgan’s Global Corporate Bank in Singapore.

In a statement from Habib Bank, Aurangzeb said, “I am excited about the opportunity to serve our country in this new capacity and contribute to the economic growth and development of Pakistan.”

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Habib Bank called Aurangzeb’s stepping down from his position a “remarkable act of national service”.

Second-time-PM Sharif heads a fragile alliance backed by his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party’s long-term rivals, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Pakistan’s economy is dependent on International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans to service its repayments – a programme that comes with a number of conditions.

Sharif told his cabinet on Monday they would need to perform “deep surgery” on the nation’s finances, adding that: “The foremost challenge our nation confronts is inflation.”

PPP refused to assume any ministerial positions, instead taking only the president’s role for party leader Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The two family dynasties combined to keep lawmakers loyal to jailed ex-prime minister Imran Khan from power after they won the most seats in the February general election.

The Sharif family have ruled Pakistan for lengthy stints, with Shehbaz’s eldest brother Nawaz Sharif also serving as prime minister on three separate occasions.

PM Sharif is expected to make further appointments in the coming months.

Inflation, debt

Seventy-three-year-old Ishaq Dar, finance minister under the last Sharif government and who publicly rebuffed the IMF, was given the foreign ministry.

Dar is an ethnic Kashmiri and chartered accountant by training and is a confidant of the party head and former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif.

“It is all grey-haired men who have been brought back,” Gallup Pakistan analyst Bilal Gilani told AFP.

“It’s a disappointment that the government, which is facing huge opposition from a party that talks about young people and change has – even to the extent of cabinet composition – not bothered to bring in any new faces, let alone new ideas.”

Inflation is soaring at 23 per cent, with water, electricity and gas price increases at 36 per cent, as the predominantly Muslim country marked the start of Ramadan on Tuesday.

In the coming weeks, Pakistan must negotiate the latest tranche of a $3 billion loan with the IMF.

“We have to save until the last moment to shop for Ramadan, and could hardly buy anything,” said Zainab Bibi, a domestic worker in Karachi. “Let’s pray that this Ramadan passes with ease for us.”

The new interior minister, Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi, was previously Punjab chief minister, and oversaw a major crackdown against Khan’s party.

Of the first 19 cabinet members announced, all but one were men.

Shaza Fatima Khawaja, the niece of the defence minister, was awarded the junior title of state minister.

Only 12 women were directly elected into parliament out of 266 seats in last month’s election. A further 60 seats are reserved for unelected women parliamentarians. (Agencies)


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