11-member AJK cabinet sworn in

14 January 2009
The Dawn
Tariq Naqash

Muzaffarabad: An 11-member Azad Jammu and Kashmir cabinet was sworn in here on Wednesday, what Prime Minister Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan later said was the first phase of cabinet formation. The oath to ministers, who included the only directly elected female lawmaker of the currently 47-member house, was administered by President Raja Zulqarnain Khan at the lawn of the Presidency before a large gathering of political workers. The AJK prime minister, Muslim Conference (forward bloc) president Raja Farooq Haider MLA, People’s Party Azad Kashmir (PPAJK) President Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, MLA, and other leaders also attended the ceremony which later resounded with slogans of Jeay Bhutto and Jeay Benazir. The approval to the appointment of ministers was given by the prime minister on Tuesday evening. The initial summary carried only eight names but late at night three more were added to it, raising the strength of first batch to 11 who included Raja Nisar Ahmed Khan, Noreen Arif, Raja Mohammad Nasim, Abdul Majid Khan and Mahmood Riaz from MC (forward bloc), Sardar Qamaruz Zaman and Abdul Waheed from PPAJK, Chaudhry Anwaarul Haq and Chaudhry Mohammad Rasheed from People’s Muslim League (PML), Tahir Khokhar from MQM and Chaudhry Mohammad Yousaf from MC’s so-called ‘Progressive Rebel Group’. Two each of cabinet members belong to Muzaffarabad and Bagh districts and the Kashmiri refugees’ constituencies in Pakistan, and one each to Neelum, Kotli, Bhimber and Mirpur districts. One cabinet member represents the overseas Kashmiris through a reserved seat. Prime Minister Sardar Yaqoob himself belongs to Poonch district. However, neither the portfolios of new ministers were announced nor any of them was designated as senior minister – an office over which two PPAJK stalwarts are reported to have been involved in a tug of war. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the prime minister told Dawn that designation of senior minister and allocation of portfolios would be done after induction of around a dozen more ministers within a week. The strength of the cabinet would reach 22 or 24, he said. CABINET MEETING Later, the cabinet held its maiden but informal meeting at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat and appreciated the government of Pakistan for its “complete impartiality and non-interference” in the recent political change in AJK. Dismissing the “sham” elections in Occupied Kashmir, the cabinet asked India to take measures to grant right to self determination to the Kashmiris because “neither such elections were a substitute to the plebiscite nor could those make any headway towards the resolution of lingering issue”. The cabinet welcomed the statements of the President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani regarding the rights of Kashmiri people and expressed complete solidarity with the government and people of Pakistan. DECISIONS The cabinet also formed a four-member committee, comprising three ministers and one senior officer, to submit report by January 31 into the reasons behind Asian Development Bank’s announcement to call off Rs6 billion Multi-Sector Rehabilitation Infrastructure Project (MSRIP) in Azad Kashmir. The cabinet, a minister Mahmood Riaz told newsmen, was hopeful that the ADB would revive and extend the project. He said the cabinet also took stock of the strike by paramedical staff and directed the health secretary to bring them back to work. It directed an already constituted committee to look into this issue to complete its job at the earliest.