ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi yesterday said consultation on formation of the federal cabinet was underway and it would be in place in the next couple of days.

He was talking to media persons after spending several hours in Murree at two meetings – first with former PM Nawaz Sharif and second with the select party parliamentarians to finalise the ruling PML-N strategy in the post-disqualification scenario.

Abbasi said Nawaz Sharif wanted to give the message that the party could change the prime minister, but there would be no change in policies, particularly the development agenda of the government.

Nawaz Sharif congratulated Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on assuming the office of prime minister and directed him to further speed up work on the ongoing development projects.

Nawaz Sharif expressed satisfaction over the number of votes cast in favour of Shahid Khaqan Abbassi and hoped PML-N would move forward and accomplish the development targets set for the last year of their term with unity and cohesion.

In a one-on-one meeting which was later joined by Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the party’s strategy on tackling post-Panama verdict scenario on legal and political fronts was discussed. It was decided that the PML-N leaders should project the party position and point of view on the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif forcefully.

Sources in PML-N revealed it was decided in the select parliamentarians’ meeting that the ministerial slots given to coalition partners would not be altered, while majority of the cabinet ministers would almost remain the same. They further said most likely JUI-F would be getting the portfolio of postal services which is falling vacant after the election of Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri as the Senate deputy chairman.

They said as some of former heavyweights in the cabinet like Nisar Ali Khan and Ishaq Dar were reluctant to join the interim cabinet of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the party leadership was facing difficulties in looking for their substitutes. Efforts were, however, being made to convince these leaders. A senior party leader confirmed Nisar Ali Khan and Ishaq Dar would not join the cabinet.

The sources said in case the party failed to bring in Ch Nisar Ali Khan, Lt-Gen (r) Abdul Qayyum or Lt-Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch could be given the portfolio. Similarly, Haroon Akhtar would likely to look after the Ministry of Finance as adviser to the prime minister, they said.

The sources added efforts were still on to convince Ishaq Dar to continue taking care of the finance ministry as he had quite effectively managed financial issues, which was also acknowledged by Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in his maiden speech as prime minister.

As Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi would keep the portfolio of ministry of petroleum and natural resources with him, most likely the new cabinet would have a full-fledged foreign minister. Previously, this portfolio was with the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Reportedly, the party is planning to also bring in a full-fledged defence minister as earlier the portfolio was with Khawaja Muhammad Asif as an additional charge.

Sources in the ruling PML-N informed The Nation that the chances of bringing in some new faces in the cabinet was also under consideration as Nawaz Sharif wanted to keep this cabinet till the culmination of the mandated term in June next year.

Explaining the point, the sources said the party was taking time in the finalisation of the cabinet because it was decided in the meeting held under the chair of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif that even after Shahbaz Sharif’s taking over as prime minister after his victory in by-election from NA 120 in September, the cabinet composition would remain the same.

Sources in the party affirmed some fresh faces from south and central Punjab districts could be inducted to appease the dissidents who in the past had expressed their serious reservations over the party’s high-ups’ indifference towards them.

As all disgruntled elements stand by the party in this difficult time, the party leadership would definitely be accommodating some of them as state ministers, advisers and special assistants, a source confirmed, adding those issues were delaying the cabinet formation.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, after returning from Murree Wednesday evening, drove straight to the Prime Minister’s Office where he was given briefing by the staff. He also disposed of some pending routine work.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also decided not to stay at the Prime Minister’s House and would continue living at his residence in the federal capital where the official security and other staff had already been deputed.

In a media chat at Murree, Abbasi said he did not like protocol and wanted to meet the people of his constituency, but could not do so for security reasons. He further said that as directed by Nawaz Sharif, they would further expedite work on the ongoing development projects like motorways, power generation and other development works.

Abbasi expressed his optimism that the ruling PML-N would return victorious in next general elections on the basis of its performance.