Musharraf offers a caretaker
Raja Asghar in Islamabad
government with a difference
Caretaker cabinets are nothing strange to Pakistan, but the one promised by the new military ruler, General
Pervez Musharraf, has a difference -- a political and economic
The country has had five caretaker cabinets in the past 11
years of political turmoil beginning from the last days of the
longest-serving military ruler, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq.
All of them were installed to oversee elections after the
ouster of a prime minister in a stop-gap arrangement that many hold
responsible for Pakistan's increasing instability.
Musharraf, in power since a bloodless coup last Tuesday,
said in a broadcast to the nation yesterday that a cabinet of
ministers to be named by him would work under the guidance of a
national security council at the top of his administration. It will
have a tough seven-point agenda including economic revival and
accountability of politicians.
Under Pakistan's Constitution, which Musharraf suspended
through an emergency proclamation on Friday, new elections must
be held within 90 days after a government is dismissed and the
national assembly is dissolved.
Musharraf has dismissed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's
31-month-old government, but has not dissolved the 217-seat
national assembly, thus escaping the necessity to hold fresh
elections even when the Constitution is revived.
He has promised a return to ''true'' democracy without giving
Pakistan's first caretaker cabinet was set up by Zia when
he sacked his own hand-picked prime minister, Mohammad Khan
Junejo, in 1988. It was retained by then acting president,
Ghulam Ishaq Khan, after Zia died in a plane crash on August
Headed by a senior minister, Mohammad Aslam Khattak, rather
than an interim prime minister, the cabinet functioned until
the November 1988 elections won by Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan
Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, a former PPP loyalist turned
opposition leader, was named first caretaker prime minister
when Ishaq Khan sacked Bhutto's government in August 1990 on
disputed charges of misrule.
He remained in office until elections in October, which were won by Sharif's Pakistan
Muslim League amid charges of vote-rigging.
Balkh Sher Mazari, a PML dissident, headed the country's
most short-lived caretaker cabinet named in April 1993 after
Ishaq Khan dismissed Sharif's government.
That cabinet disappeared unceremoniously after about a
month when the Supreme Court reinstated Sharif's government.
The most celebrated of all of Pakistan's caretaker prime
ministers was Moeen Qureshi, a former World Bank vice-president, who
was named for the office in July 1993 after Sharif and Ishaq Khan
both resigned under an army-brokered deal to end the power struggle
Qureshi also tried to introduce economic and administrative
reforms in his three months while preparing for the elections and
annoyed Sharif by criticising some of his high-cost projects.
But most decrees issued by his government for those reforms
were allowed to lapse as Benazir Bhutto's second government
formed after the elections had its own agenda.
Meraj Khalid, a former Bhutto loyalist-turned-critic,
became the country's last caretaker prime minister. He appointed after
the then president Farooq Leghari dismissed Bhutto's government.
Khalid headed a cabinet of Bhutto's opponents whom she
blamed for what she called computer-rigging of February 1997
elections that gave Sharif a landslide victory.
Tell us what you think of this report