ISLAMABAD -

The internal decision-making mechanism of the Sharif family recently quashed a scheme to install an out-of-the-family Punjab chief minister. The plan envisaged elevation of Shahbaz Sharif as a powerful federal minister and installation of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as a new chief minister, sources said.

The incoming premier, Nawaz Sharif, is learnt to have put his foot down on the issue, arguing Shahbaz Sharif was needed in the Punjab in the wake of a formidable challenge from PTI in the days to come, and that radical changes in administration and police were also needed besides initiating new projects, especially in energy, road network and education sectors. Sharif is said to have declared and made it clear to all in the family and close circles that he values loyalty, but will elevate only those who have the capacity to deliver on key slots.

The third-time premier doesn’t want to fill the key cabinet slots to accommodate near and dear ones, his close circles claim. The party sources say Nisar Ali Khan had made this wish known directly to Shahbaz Sharif (a close friend of his) and indirectly to the elder Sharif who is known for his patience to listen to ideas, but coming up with his forceful decisions. This happened in the case of Nisar as his wish to become the foreign minister of the upcoming Sharif cabinet was also brushed aside.

A third proposal to make him interior minister is still under discussion. That too has strings attached. Known for his outright opposition to property tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain, the PML-N stalwart was quoted recently in Rawalpindi to have vowed to make an example of the property tycoon, a situation Sharifs don’t want to land themselves in. Known for his excellent relations with almost all the political families, especially Sharifs and Bhutto Zardaris, Riaz made up quickly with Sharifs in run-up to elections 2013. The Sharifs were reportedly annoyed with him over his generous effort to build Bilawal House in Lahore Bahria Town. Efforts by intermediaries to bring about a patch-up between Nisar and Riaz didn’t bear fruit till date as Nisar wants the latter to disassociate himself from the Khokhar brothers, lead by Haji Nawaz and Taji Khokhar.

In case of Nisar’s elevation as chief minister, Hamza Shahbaz, the heir apparent of the Sharif family, could become a de-facto chief minister of the province, a role he has been effectively playing since 2008. Announced as heir apparent (not formally) by no one other than Nawaz Sharif some years back, Hamza lost ground drastically in 2010-11 as scandal of his marriage to Ayesha Ahad Malik brought about embarrassment for the family. A character not liked by his immediate cousins, Hamza’s downward slide, is learnt to have brought about a relief amongst his cousins, Mariam and Hussain Nawaz. The elder Sharif is said to have been so annoyed that he postponed any elevation announcement regarding Hamza and cautiously launched his elder daughter Mariam Safdar into the political fray. Mariam, along with mother Kalsoom Nawaz, ran Nawaz Sharif’s election campaign in his constituency from where he is going to become the next premier of the country. She is all set to play a key informal role in the Punjab administration in the days to come, side by side Hamza as an equal partner.

A key player of the Sharifs’ inner circle, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, is all set for the most challenging task as an energy minister of the upcoming Sharif cabinet. He and the party bosses know this ministry holds key to their future success and political survival. Khawaja enjoys many feathers to his cap. A Kashmiri, an undefeated Sharif loyalist since 1990, Khawaja Asif has a banking and financial work background, an experience that made him a successful privatisation commission head in 1990s. The same is the case with Ishaq Dar, the father-in-law of Nawaz Sharif’s younger daughter. He will be a powerful finance minister of the Sharif cabinet. Dar, a chartered account and big businessman by profession, rose to prominence as an employee of the Sharif family business. Soon he entered the inner circles of the family. He was elevated first time as commerce and second time finance minister of the country in the 1997-99 era of PML-N. Dar had to go through physical and mental torture after the 1999 coup as the military junta pressed him to become an approver against Nawaz Sharif. This he didn’t do and went to Dubai, after release from jail, and kept a low profile while carrying out key assignments in UAE’s official setup. He is now considered a lynchpin in elder Sharif circles, may be more powerful than Shahbaz Sharif on key issues. Sharifs elevated him as opposition leader in the Senate where he was considered a key negotiator with PPP government on key issues, including give-and-take on legislation. Many PPP ministers use to term him more powerful than Chaudhry Nisar and ilk.

Considered a key member of the Sharif kitchen cabinet, Senator Pervaiz Rashid’s performance and management skills have lately been questioned in the Sharif family circles. He is sure to get a cabinet slot, but pros and cons of his elevation as information minister have been discussed too often by the Sharif brothers. Senator Rashid’s performance as the Punjab government spokesman has also been under question lately as many party insiders don’t see a smooth operator in him. Instead he is considered a man of strong liking and disliking in media, which makes him controversial at times. The second choice in line seems that of Khawaja Saad Rafiq, the student leader-turned into a mature first-tier leader of the Sharif bandwagon. Elevated for a brief stint as a federal minister in 2008 when PML-N withdrew from the federal cabinet after a very brief stint, Saad has been a sought-after character for television talk shows during which he forcefully defended his party policies, differing at times also. But lack of fluent English-speaking skills might dampen his chances for the slot. Then he might be elevated to some challenging federal ministry like railways, the party sources say.

Mushahidullah Khan, another PML-N stalwart and a diehard Sharif loyalist, is expected to make it to the cabinet, but on a junior minister portfolio.

The choice for former Senator Tariq Azim are said to be open-ended. He may be elevated as an adviser to prime minister, most probably on information or external publicity wing. Lately, he ran the PML-N media cell successfully, an effort praised by Sharifs also.

Ahsan Iqbal, the former chief planner of the 1997-99 PML-N government and education minister for a brief 2008 stint, is reportedly eyeing foreign ministry this time. He is expected to become an important federal minister. Likewise, Khurram Dastagir and Shahid Khakhan Abbasi are all set for federal ministries.

Faced with a limited choice in Balochistan, Abdul Qadir Baloch from Baloch area and Sardar Yaqub Nasir from Pashtun area of Balochistan will be likely choices as federal ministers. As Sharifs want a National Assembly speaker from a smaller province and his choice could be limited in scope, the slot of deputy speaker could go to a personality like Sumaira Malik, Tariq Fazal Chaudhry or Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, the new PML-N hero from Lahore for having defeated Imran Khan. Sardar Yuosaf from Hazara as a minister and Engineer Amir Muqam as an adviser are also set to make it to the cabinet. Ghaus Ali Shah, the party stalwart and one-time chief minister of Sindh, is hopeful for governorship of the Sindh province. If he is not elevated to that slot, he might be elevated as an adviser to the premier in the days to come, and a possible presidential hopeful along with elderly Sartaj Aziz, who is also being elevated as an adviser to the premier for now, it was reliably learnt.