Aurangzeb snubbed again in favour of Dar. But what will the foreign minister do in the Council of Common Interests? 

In what is becoming a very clear pattern, the role of the finance minister is being diminished as Mr Dar tries to once again insert himself in economic affairs. 

ISLAMABAD: In what is fast becoming a pattern, Muhammad Aurangzeb’s role in the cabinet as the finance minister is being undermined by Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar.

The latest episode of Aurangzeb’s role in governance being reduced comes after Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif did not include him in the Council of Common Interests which is meant to foster coordination between different provincial governments and the federal government. Instead, the foreign minister has been given a seat at the table where it is unclear what his exact role will be. 

What is the CCI and what does it do? 

The announcement that Dar would be part of the Council while Aurangzeb would not has already raised many eyebrows. The council, which is a constitutionally mandated body, plays a vital role as a platform for approving various projects between provinces and ensuring equitable distribution of resources. Constitutionally, the council has five fixed members which include the prime minister and the chief ministers of all four provinces and three members that are appointed at the discretion of the prime minister. 

Normally, these three members are drawn from the cabinet. The finance minister has not always been a member of the council but has been a regular inclusion. Members often change depending on different challenges. For example, during the previous caretaker government, the council included the finance, law, and privatisation ministers. Similarly, the ministers for commerce, energy, etc have also remained part of the CCI. 

This is the first time, however, that the foreign minister has been included in the council. One could argue that since foreign affairs are entirely the domain of the federal government this is the one ministry that does not have anything to do with interprovincial coordination. But it has become clear in the past few months that the foreign minister intends to extend his influence far beyond his new ministry. 

Not the first time

This is not the first time that the finance minister has been so obviously sidelined. In less than three weeks in office, Mr Aurangzeb has had a hard time doing anything other than the tough job of negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). That it seems is all the government wants him to do.

He was first excluded from the all-important Economic Coordination Committee where the prime minister maintained chairmanship. It was only after criticism that he relinquished it to Mr Aurangzeb. The finance minister was also kept away from chairing the cabinet’s committee on privatisation, which is headed interestingly enough by Mr Dar. 

Does the new CCI make sense? 

Normally, at a time like this when Pakistan is entering negotiations with the IMF, the role of the finance minister in the CCI would have been vital. For starters, budget season is only a few months away and with the IMF keeping a very close eye on Pakistan’s taxation, the provincial chief executives would want to have face time with the federal finance minister over the issue of the NFC awards. 

Interestingly enough, the other inclusions in the council are also somewhat strange. Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has been included in the body. With the recent resurgence in terrorism, one might think that this makes sense. But the coordination between the provinces and the centre on matters of anti-terror activities should ideally take place through the interior ministry. In fact, the announcement of the new CCI was made the same day that Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi went to Peshawar to meet KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur to hold discussions on coordinating an anti-terror response. 

Engineer Amir Muqam, Minister for States & Frontier Regions (SAFRON) is also a part of the council. This might indicate that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is focusing more on giving old party loyalists as much influence as possible and clipping the wings of the team that he has been assigned.  

This report was contributed to by Ahmad Ahmadani in Islamabad. 

Abdullah Niazi
Abdullah Niazi
Abdullah Niazi is senior editor at Profit. He also covers agriculture and climate change. He can be reached at [email protected]

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