One of Pakistan’s former finance ministers, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, has returned, stoking rumours of his name being on the list for caretaker PM.
Upon his return from the US, he was welcomed with extraordinary protocol by plainclothes personnel at Karachi Airport on Tuesday. Prior to this the Sindh High Court granted him a 10-day transit protective bail linked to a NAB case.
“He always finds his spot as a technocrat based on the doctrine of necessity,” explained Aaj News Karachi bureau chief Rafat Saeed. Technocrats are not answerable to the public unlike politicians, therefore, if Hafeez Shaikh becomes caretaker PM, he would have the freedom to take bold, unpopular decisions that are direly needed in Pakistan’s economic crisis.
Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh is an economist with a global reputation and has held government office previously. He served as federal minister for finance and revenue affairs in the former PTI government (2020-21). He has also been an advisor to former PM Imran Khan in the same department (2019-20).
He served as a senator during 2003 and 2006 and finance minister from 2010 to 2013. He also served as Sindh minister for finance in the 2000-2002 period.
For the 2013 elections, Shaikh was a popular choice for the PPP government list of three nominees for caretaker PM.
“I have been watching him for a long time,” said Saeed. “He joins whichever party he wishes to.”
While elaborating on Shaikh’s family background in politics, Saeed said that his maternal lineage is associated with Ilahi Bukhsh Soomro, a senior politician who served as the 16th speaker of the National Assembly. “The Soomro clan is one of the powerful political families in Sindh from where he gets his political support.”
He has over Rs297 million worth in assets, which was declared by him so he could hold government office. But perhaps Shaikh’s greatest claim to fame, and the result of scepticism in certain quarters, is his track record of working with the World Bank.
“This is the first time a NAB case has been filled on him. However, he has been granted bail for 10 days,” said Saeed.
“The way he came back and how his arrival was facilitated, gives us a sense that he has been brought for some purpose.” According to Rafat Saeed, the former caretaker PM, Moeen Qureshi, was treated the same way when he returned.
When it comes to a caretaker government, people like Shaikh come to prominence because of their close associations with the PTI, PPP and Establishment.
“However, this can also prove to be a double-edged sword for him as his proximity with the PTI government lately means the PML-N could reject his name,” said Saeed.
The easiest way to introduce a technocrat in Pakistan’s politics is to have them elected senator. Shaikh has been a senator as well.
No further names have come up so far but former interior minister Sheikh Rashid claimed on Wednesday that interviews of economists for the seat of caretaker PM are being “conducted in Islamabad and Rawalpindi”.
Saeed believed that an uncontroversial name is needed for caretaker PM. According to him, a final decision is generally made after mainstream political parties agree on one.