Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister Has His Work Cut Out
Elections might be pushed beyond March 2024
The caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, is expected to be more than just a functionary holding the fort until elections to the National Assembly are held in March 2024.
Sources say that he will be required to serve five objectives: Ensuring law and order and governmental neutrality in the elections; Putting the all-important army in a commanding position; Restoring the strained relations with the United States; Ensuring the safety of Chinese personnel and projects in Balochistan by adopting a no-nonsense approach towards separatists and terrorists in Balochistan; Maintaining harmonious ties with China.
Kakar (52) from Balochistan, belongs to the small Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) that he founded in 2018. He had earlier broken away from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) led by Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif as well as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) led by the now-incarcerated Imran Khan. He was to be Federal Minister of Information in the PTI government headed by Imran Khan but was ditched.
Alienated from both major parties, Kakar is expected to be neutral in the politics and administration of Pakistan which are usually plagued by unbridled rivalry between PML (N), the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPI) and the PTI.
The PML (N) was pushing for the appointment of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar as caretaker PM. But the army which is called the “Establishment” in Pakistan, would have none of it. The PML (N) has had a chequered relationship with the army fighting with it and being chummy with it, alternately.
Anwaarul Haq Kakar has been a Member of the Senate of Pakistan, since March 2018. He co-launched a new political party Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). The party had contested the general elections in 2018 with the slogan of 'Stronger Nation, Unified People'.
While being in the Senate, he simultaneously worked as chairperson of the Senate Standing Committee on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, and as a member of the Business Advisory Committee, Finance and Revenue, Foreign Affairs and Science and Technology.
“Though he has been involved in politics, Kakar is widely regarded as a great intellectual in the country,” senior TV anchor Hamid Mir told Geo News. Mir further said that the BAP lawmaker is from the Kakar tribe of Pashtun ethnicity, so he represents both the Pashtuns and the Baluch. “He also enjoys good ties with the mainstream political parties including PML-N and PPP,” Mir added.
In the politics of his native Balochistan, Kakar has positioned himself as an anti-separatist and anti-terrorist leader. As such, he will wholeheartedly back the army’s muscular campaign against separatist and militant outfits that have been threatening Pakistan’s relations with China and threatening the integrity of Pakistan.
China has a port at Gwadar and is executing infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars in Balochistan which the local Baluchis think are of new use to them. Only recently, Baloch separatists attacked a vehicle carrying some Chinese personnel, though no Chinese was hurt. Tough action the Baluch separatists will smoothen ties with Beijing.
With Imran Khan in jail for corruption, and his PTI party having no popular and credible leader outside the prison, Kakar will be untrammelled by PTI’s efforts to whip up mass anti-government and anti-army agitations. He would thus find the time and space to attend to the country’s still unresolved economic and foreign exchange problems.
To resolve the economic crises, Pakistan needs the support of the IMF and that entails support in Washington. Although the outgoing PML (N)-Pakistan Peoples’ Party coalition government led by Shehbaz Sharif was friendly to the US, the army was not confident that these parties would abjure the populist anti-US stand.
The Pakistan army has had a long-standing relationship with the US receiving high-quality weapons from time to time. The army has always fought against local forces inimical to the US.
The army was happy to help engineer the removal of Imran Khan from power because he had become very critical of the US. The US is said to have sought Imran’s removal in an informal interaction between top US official Donald Lu and the Pakistan Ambassador in Washington.
Imran Khan, who directly challenged the army, demanding that the Generals stay out of politics, was ousted through a no-confidence motion allegedly facilitated by the army. He was later convicted for corruption and subjected to a five-year ban on political activity.
Analysts expect the Caretaker government to maintain the current heavy pressure on Imran and his PTI party. Efforts will be made to split the PTI, though Imran may still enjoy popular support.
The Establishment (ie: the army) may push back elections beyond March 2024 to allow time for the economy to improve and for Khan's support base to dissipate. Another reason for delaying elections could be the redrawing electoral constituencies in light of the findings of the just concluded national census. This will not be a smooth and quick process because the census itself will be challenged for alleged political and ethnic biases.
Significantly, special legislation had been carried out just before the Sharif government demitted office to make way for a Caretaker PM. The legislation is meant to strengthen the hands of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), the Commander of the Army, to check any dissidence or politicisation among the personnel.
When Imran Khan was in the thick of his anti-government and anti-army agitation, it was rumoured that a section of the army was supporting him clandestinely attracted by his populist rhetoric.
The Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act, 2023 has Section 26-B, which forbids any person subject to the Army Act from engaging in any kind of political activity for two years from the date of “retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service”.
It further says that those who have “remained posted, employed, seconded, tasked or otherwise attached on sensitive duties” are forbidden from taking part in “political activity of any kind, during a period of five years from the date of his retirement, release, resignation, discharge, removal or dismissal from the service”.
It states that anyone who violates the aforementioned conditions, upon their conviction by the court constituted under the Army Act, will be punished with “rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years”.
Section 55-A forbids any person subject to the Army Act in the past five years from directly or indirectly entering into employment, consultation or other engagement with an entity having a conflict of interest with the activities of the Pakistan Army or its affiliates.
Section 55-C stated that a person subject to the Army Act, who “ridicules, scandalises, brings into hatred or otherwise attempts to lower the armed forces of Pakistan or any part thereof in the estimation of others shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years or fine or with both.”
Section 176-AA (power to issue instructions) states that the Army chief may “from time to time, make and issue instructions for carrying into effect the provisions of this Act and the rules and regulations made thereunder, provided that all such instructions already made and issued shall always be deemed to have been validly made and issued under this act”.
A clause introduced to Section 176-C proposes that the Army chief “may delegate any of his powers and functions conferred by, or delegated under this act, to any officer or authority subordinate to him”.
The law does not apply to those who seek prior approval from the COAS for the above-mentioned actions.
Section 176-E proposes that the laws under the act “shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent contained in any other law, rules or regulations for the time being in force”, adding that any such inconsistent law shall, “to the extent of any inconsistency, cease to have effect”.