PML-N leaders Iqbal, Asif tipped as Pak Foreign Minister



Islamabad: Senior PML-N leaders Ahsan Iqbal and Khwaja Asif are being tipped for the post of Foreign Minister following the party's resounding victory in Pakistan's general elections.

Sources said Iqbal, a 54-year-old graduate of the Wharton School of Business, and Asif, a 63-year-old former banker, were considered frontrunners for heading the crucial Foreign Ministry.

Both the parliamentarians from Punjab are considered to be very close to PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif, who is set for an unprecedented third term as Pakistan's Prime Minister.

Sharif has already signalled his intentions to improve relations with India, including greater economic ties.

Iqbal and Asif served as ministers in the cabinet of former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani when the Pakistan People's Party and the PML-N formed a short-lived coalition after the last general elections in 2008.

Iqbal is also one of the spokesmen of the PML-N.

Some reports said PML-N leader Ishaq Dar, widely tipped to be the Finance Minister, could be considered for the post of Foreign Minister.

Siddiq-ul-Farooq, another PML-N spokesman, told journalists that Dar, 64, would head the new government's economic team as Finance Minister.

Dar, a member of the Senate or upper house of parliament, served as Finance Minister in the PPP-led government before the PML-N pulled out of the coalition in 2008.

During his stint as Finance Minister in the last PML-N government, Dar played a key role in tackling economic challenges faced by Pakistan after sanctions were imposed by Western powers following the 1998 nuclear tests.

Dar will have a central role in Sharif's plans to revitalise Pakistan's economy, plagued by sluggish growth and one of the lowest tax collection rates in South Asia.

He will have to prepare the new budget by June and also may have to negotiate a fresh bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

As a sign of its intention to foster reconciliation in the troubled southwestern province of Balochistan, the PML-N may appoint Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai as the Speaker of the new National Assembly or lower house of parliament.

Achakzai is a Pashtun nationalist from Balochistan and his party could be part of the PML-N's efforts to form a government in that province.

Senior PML-N leader Khurram Dastagir Khan was being considered for the post of Commerce Minister while Abdul Qadir Baloch, a party leader from Balochistan, was tipped for the post of Interior Minister, sources said.

However, the results of the constituency from which Baloch contested the polls are yet to be announced.

PML-N spokespersons Pervaiz Rashid, Mushhidullah Khan and Khwaja Saad Rafique were being considered for the post of Information and Broadcasting Minister, sources said.

The PML-N has emerged as the single largest party in Pakistan's general election by bagging 122 of the 272 parliamentary seats that went to the polls, according to results announced today by the Election Commission.

PTI