LAHORE - The new federal cabinet, a combination of old and new faces, sworn in yesterday manifests the unity of the ruling coalition and has some visible and implied messages for individuals and the establishment. It also shows the PML-N’s resolve to take its allies along to be able to win the next election with even bigger margins than of 2013 polls.

One message is that if somebody thinks that relations between the Sharifs and the Chakri leader are normal, they would have to review their opinion.

Nisar always harboured the ambition to become foreign minister during the premiership of Mian Nawaz Sharif. However, his dream did not come true as Mr Sharif kept the portfolio with him. The former interior minister could have been given a chance to become country’s top diplomat under the leadership of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, but he preferred to stay away from the cabinet, apparently because he did not like to work under a leader who was far junior to him.

In the SKA cabinet the portfolio has been given to Sialkot’s Khwaja Asif, who has not even been on speaking terms with Nisar for many years. Rewarding one’s rival is not tolerated in our culture and are indicative of which side one is on.

Not only this, the interior ministry has been given to another Nisar opponent – Ahsan Iqbal. This must be a strong message to the former minister. Ahsan Iqbal’s appreciation of his predecessor’s services is nothing more than window dressing.

The above-mentioned two decisions are certainly indicative of the Nisar-Nawaz gulf, and if the SKA government remained in power till the completion of its term in June next year, the Chakri leader would have to stay out of power for a long time to come. He would stand a chance of returning to power only if the PML-N won the next election and accommodated him.

(Nisar said while addressing a public meeting in his constituency yesterday that he would explain during the next few days why he decided to stay out of the cabinet. But at the same time, he reiterated that the country was facing very serious security threats, something he had said a few days ago as well.

If the threats are really as serious as he claims then there was no justification for him to stay out of cabinet. Patriotism demanded that he should have joined the cabinet and played his role in dealing with the threats he was referring to).

The induction of Khwaja Asif as foreign minister indicates that foreign affairs is not a high priority area for the new government. Before him, the portfolio was held by the prime minister, and for his help he also had veteran leader Sartaj Aziz as adviser, who ran the ministry. Tariq Fatemi worked as special assistant, because of which the former premier was able to focus on other areas.

Now Khwaja Asif will run the ministry single-handedly. And a man who has no control over his tongue and emotions, and who starts fuming even at the mention of his rival’s name, cannot be expected to hold talks with enemy like India.

As Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan are very tense and the country will have to engage US many a time, the prime minister would be doing a national service by recalling Sartaj Aziz as adviser to the foreign ministry.

The allocation of defence portfolio to Khurram Dastgir also appears to be an interesting decision. The leader from Gujranwala failed to deliver as commerce minister, because during his tenure the country’s exports fell by about $5 billion to $20 billion.

But because of his loyalty to the former prime minister, he has been given the ministry of defence, an assignment which is very important elsewhere in the world but not in Pakistan. Here the defence minister has little influence over the people he is supposed to head. In practical terms the minister of defence is like an OSD, which many say means an officer in search of duty. It’s for the defence people to decide how much respect to give to their minister. His appointment apparently shows that the SKA government is not very serious in improving relations with the establishment.

Talal Chaudhry has been rewarded only for taking on Imran Khan, the PTI chairman who is the major irritant for the PML-N leadership. He has no other qualification. His selection is an incentive for others who want to brighten up their future through short-cuts.

Daniyal Aziz wanted a similar treatment. But since he was offered the post of minister of state, he did not accept it and stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony.

Pervaiz Malik from Lahore has been accommodated ostensibly to fill the gap caused by the ouster of Pervaiz Rashid, the erstwhile information minister. Since Pervaiz Malik is also the president of the Lahore chapter of the PML-N, his induction shows that the party wants to further improve its standing in the provincial capital, which is already a stronghold of the party.

Mushahidullah Khan’s return to the cabinet means the government wants to take independent decisions, regardless of the establishment’s reservations. Khan had been expelled by Sharif for issuing a controversial statement accusing the ISI of sponsoring the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s sit-in in 2014.

Awais Leghari and Abdul Kareem have been taken on board to improve the party’s position in South Punjab.

At present, the PPP is gaining ground in that region.