ISLAMABAD - President Mamnoon Hussain yesterday administered the oath of office to 27 federal ministers and 16 ministers of state, setting the stage for Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to steer his party out of a state of gloom.

Shortly after the 43-member cabinet sworn in, PM Abbasi told his ministers that disqualified premier Nawaz Sharif will be the guiding force of the government as he was his political mentor.

The oath-taking ceremony at the Aiwan-e-Sadr was entirely conducted in the national language, Urdu. Besides the prime minister, it was attended by National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, parliamentarians, senior politicians, diplomats and high-level civil officials.

The new cabinet is larger than the previous one, and some opposition parties believe it has been structured keeping in view the 2018 general elections.

The need to appease the coalition partners, satisfy disgruntled party members and oblige some loyalists in the precarious political situation has forced the cabinet expansion, according to some PML-N insiders.

But Marriyum Aurangzeb, who has returned as Minister of State for Information, said the new cabinet was not extraordinarily large, and the expansion was overdue since the time of Nawaz Sharif.

Besides a few new faces, the cabinet comprises of the old members - with some changes in portfolios.

Resumption of duties

Ishaq Dar will continue as finance minister. Marriyum Aurangzeb (Information, broadcasting and heritage), Zahid Hamid (law and parliamentary affairs) and Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry (capital administration and development division) are also expected to retain their previous portfolios.

Change of robes

Khawaja Asif, who was federal minister for defence as well as water and power in Nawaz administration, has been made foreign minister. The country did not have a foreign minister since PML-N’s coming to power in 2013.

Ahsan Iqbal, who was previously minister for planning and development, has sworn in as interior minister. This came after the party leadership failed to convince ex-interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to join Abbasi’s cabinet.

Khurrum Dastagir, who was minister for commerce, has achieved a power boost as he will now serve as defence minister.

New faces

Talal Chaudhry from Faisalabad, Arshad Leghari from Rahim Yar Khan and Junaid Anwar Chaudhry from Toba Tek Singh, Mohsin Ranjha and Hafiz Abdul Karim are among the newcomers in the cabinet. Another new entrant, Pervez Malik will be the new minister for commerce in place of Khurram Dastagir.

Complete list of Federal Ministers

Ishaq Dar, Kamran Michael, Muhammad Pervaiz Malik, Hafiz Abdul Kareem, Khurram Dastgir Khan, Syed Javed Ali Shah, Rana Tanveer Hussain, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Akram Khan Durrani, Ghulam Murtaza Khan Jatoi, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, Ahsan Iqbal, Lt-Gen (r) Salahuddin Tirmizi, Muhammad Barjees Tahir, Zahid Hamid, Mushahidullah Khan, Sardar Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari, Pir Syed Sadaruddin Shah Rashidi, Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Sardar Muhammad Yousaf, Lt-Gen (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch, Saira Afzal Tarar, Sikandar Hayat Khan Bosan, Sheikh Aftab Ahmed, Muhammad Balighur Rehman and Maulana Ameer Zaman.

List of State Ministers

Tariq Fazal Chaudhary, Haji Muhammad Akram Ansari, Muhammad Junaid Anwar Chaudhry, Abid Sher Ali, Jam Kamal Khan, Marriyum Aurangzeb, Anusha Rahman, Dr Darshan, Muhammad Tallal Chaudhry, Barrister Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha, Barrister Usman Ibrahim, Abdul Rehman Khan Kanju, Chaudhary Jaffar Iqbal, Sardar Muhammad Arshad Khan Leghari, Pir Muhammad Aminul Hasnat Shah and Ghalib Khan.

Post-disqualification problems

The anxiously-awaited oath-taking ceremony, earlier, saw an unexpected postponement on Wednesday after the ruling PML-N’s top leaders could not finalise the candidates to be inducted as cabinet members.

The PML-N top leadership had been holding marathon huddles during the past many days in Murree.

Besides finalising Abbasi’s cabinet, the party leadership has been having brainstorming sessions to devise the future course of action.

Among other important issues being deliberated upon for the past few days in a series of meetings in Murree where former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been living after being deposed from office is the elevation of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif to the centre as new prime minister.

Sources in the PML-N say the younger Sharif is reluctant to leave Punjab – the province he has been governing continuously since 2008.

Close circles of Shehbaz claim that the chief minister feels his continuation as the chief executive of Punjab is important given the next general elections are less than a year away.

Cabinet meeting and decisions

Right after the oath-taking, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi summoned the ministers for a meeting to discuss the future line of action.

Addressing his ministers, he said that ousted premier Nawaz Sharif would be the guiding force for his government. Abbasi said for him Nawaz Sharif was more than a prime minister and was a mentor for the government.

Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers case for hiding assets last month.

The five-member larger bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa unanimously announced the decision. The other members of the bench were Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan.

The court also directed to file reference in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) within six weeks to investigate Nawaz Sharif, his children and son-in-law Mohammed Safdar’s cases.

A member of the new cabinet told The Nation that Abbasi vowed to consult Nawaz Sharif on all the issues until he was the prime minister.

“The whole cabinet endorsed his views. For us Nawaz Sharif will remain the PM,” he said citing the meeting.

The new PM also asked the ministers to concentrate on work and avoid unnecessary leaves.

“If a federal minister has to leave the country, the state minister should remain at home. Both should not fly out together. If there is some urgency, the concerned ministers should contact me,” Abbasi was quoted as saying by the minister.

The premier also empowered the federal ministers to approve the leaves for the state ministers.

Abbasi said cabinet meetings would be held every week to complete the jobs at hand and review the performance of the ministers.

An official statement later said Prime Minister Abbasi promised to continue the journey of progress and democracy initiated by Nawaz Sharif.

While outlining his future plans, he reiterated that all projects including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), energy infrastructure to rid of loadshedding, economic revival and fight against terrorism to promote peace in the region and globally would be carried out in letter and spirit.

The prime minister assured moral and diplomatic support of Pakistan to the people of Kashmir in their fight for self determination.

Abbasi vowed to complete the development plans of 10 years in the next 10 months.

He expressed his gratitude to the PML-N leadership for trusting him to run the country as its premier.

The prime minister was of the view that the cabinet would work both on short-term and long-term targets simultaneously.

He directed all the ministers to give presentations on their ministries in the coming days to apprise him about their working.

The premier told the cabinet that all ministers could approach him at any time of the day or night and he would always be accessible to them.

Abbasi told the participants that they were free to raise any issue in the meeting so that “we can address those issues.”

“The future meetings of the cabinet will be held in the evening to avoid disruption in office workings,” the prime minister said.

Abbasi encouraged the use of technology to enhance efficiency in the government departments.

“The message of our performance must be translated into action,” he said.

Abbasi also desired maximum participation of cabinet members in the Parliament sessions.

The prime minister assured cabinet members that he would also be attending all sessions of the parliament.

Abbasi asked cabinet members to take decisions regarding their own ministries themselves as he delegated powers to them.

The procedure of sending summaries to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat via the Cabinet Division must be expedited to avoid delays, he added.

Abbasi asked all the ministers to present their short-term goals to the cabinet and entire cabinet would work as a team to accomplish those goals.

“At the end, cabinet vowed to take forward the vision of Nawaz Sharif. The 32-point agenda was approved by the cabinet in its entirety,” the statement said.