ISLAMABAD: A little-known senator from Pakistan’s least-populous province was named caretaker prime minister Saturday to see the country through to an election due in months. Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, from Balochistan province, takes on a country that has been wracked by political and economic instability for months, with Imran Khan, the country’s most popular politician in jail.

Kakar was confirmed by President Arif Alvi as the choice of the outgoing coalition government, led by Shehbaz Sharif, and opposition leader Raja Riaz Ahmad. “We first agreed that whoever should be prime minister, he should be from a smaller province so smaller provinces’ grievances should be addressed,” Riaz said.

Kakar, 52, will lead Pakistan through to general and provincial elections due by November, but which some officials have already said will be delayed until next year. Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told AFP that Kakar “has a limited political career and not much weight in Pakistani politics”, but that could work in his favor.

“This can be an advantage because he has no strong affiliation with the major political parties,” he said. “But the disadvantage is that being a lightweight politician he may find it difficult to cope with the problems he’s going to face without the active support of the military establishment.”


Khan in jail

The country has been in political turmoil since former international cricket star Imran Khan was dismissed as premier by a no-confidence vote in April 2022, culminating in him being jailed last weekend for three years for graft. He has been disqualified from standing for office for five years but is appealing against his sentence and conviction.

Authorities have cracked down hard against Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in recent months, crushing his grassroots power by rounding up thousands of his supporters and officials. Analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, noting Kakar had done courses at the National Defence University — formerly the military’s war college — said he would be close to the establishment. “It seems that the establishment has struck, and they have found somebody who will be watching over their interests rather than that of politicians,” she said.


Question mark over election date

Parliament was officially dissolved on Wednesday with elections due within 90 days according to the constitution. But there has been speculation for months that they would be delayed as the establishment grapples to stabilize a country facing overlapping security, economic and political crises.

Data from the latest census carried was finally published last weekend and the outgoing government said the election commission needs time to redraw constituency boundaries. Asked this week on television if a vote would take place this year, interior minister Rana Sanaullah replied: “An absolutely straightforward answer — No.”

The election commission has yet to comment. Last month parliament rushed through legislation that gives the caretaker government more power to negotiate with global bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, another clue it may be around for a while. Some analysts think the delay could give time for the main coalition partners — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) -- to figure out how to address the challenge of Khan’s PTI.

“But in reality, delaying the election could simply anger the public more and galvanize an opposition that has already suffered through months of crackdowns,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center. The United States said this week it was watching with concern the prospect of election violence.

Behind any election in Pakistan lurks the military, which has staged at least three successful coups since the country was forged from the partition of India in 1947. Khan enjoyed genuine widespread support when he came to power in 2018, but analysts say it was only with the blessing of the country’s powerful generals — with who he reportedly fell out within the months before his ousting. – AFP