Following the disqualification of former PM Sharif, a new cabinet was sworn in yesterday. This reportedly was finalised by the new PM Abbasi in consultation with Nawaz Sharif and the Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif among other party leaders. It has many old faces but there are fifteen new members. In total there are 28 federal and 18 ministers of state. The welcome change is the inclusion of a Foreign minister as the country had no one serving this position full-time since 2013. Khawaja Muhammad Asif, earlier theDefence minister in Sharif’s government has been given the portfolio of foreign affairs. A dramatic exclusion has been that of Ch Nisar, an old time companion of Nawaz Sharif. Ahsan Iqbal, former minister for Planning, is the new Interior minister. The choice of Khawaja Asif will raise many objections mainly due to his hardline position on the Army’s role in politics. Therefore, his appointment as the foreign minister is both controversial and somewhat provocative on the part of Nawaz Sharif who remains the de facto supreme leader within PML-N. Asif has no prior experience in this area and therefore his task will be challenging to say the least. The new cabinet includes three women, which is somewhat worrying as the previous trend has not changed. Anusha Rahman, Marriyum Aurangzeb will continue in their positions as state ministers for IT and Telecommunication and Information respectively. Saira Afzal Tarar is back as federal minister for Health affairs. In a dramatic return, PML-N’s former Information secretary Mushahid Ullah Khan is part of the new cabinet as minister for Climate change. He was initially expelled for his strong remarks that accused the intelligence outfits of sponsoring Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s sit-in in 2014. The new cabinet has many familiar faces taking up important positions that are completely unrelated to their previous experience. However, with a stronger representation from southern Punjab and some bold choices, Nawaz Sharif has sent out a strong political message to the establishment. Perhaps the starkest is the choice of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar who will face trials linked to investigations into the Panama scandal. Despite Supreme Court’s rebuke he is back in the fold. A cabinet comprising 46 members in a country with a sizeable budget deficit is a questionable move. But these are difficult times for PML-N as it attempts to preserve its unity and move to the next election. PM Abbasi has an unenviable task at hand.* Published in Daily Times, August 5th 2017.