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Pakistan has appointed Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, a little-known politician from its volatile western Balochistan province, to serve as caretaker prime minister until elections are held in the coming months.
Kakar was announced after three days of consultations between former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, who stepped down on Wednesday, and Raja Riaz, who represents a minority of opposition lawmakers in Pakistan’s parliament.
The caretaker prime minister would normally hold office until elections are held, 90 days after a parliament’s tenure ends.
The Sharif-led parliament dissolved on Wednesday, but in the final days of his tenure Sharif approved a fresh population census that requires constituency boundaries to be redrawn. Officials have said the exercise could last until spring next year or longer, and will probably delay the elections.
Some key figures in the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which is led by former prime minister Imran Khan, welcomed Kakar’s appointment. Khan, who commands a large popular following, was last week sentenced to three years in prison on corruption charges.
Kakar belongs to the regional Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). Analysts say that BAP is backed by Pakistan’s powerful army, which has ruled the country for almost half of its 76 years of existence as an independent nation.
“The fact that Kakar does not belong to any of our main ruling parties suggests he was not the first choice of our main political parties,” said Huma Baqai, a Karachi-based commentator on politics and national affairs.
“It is likely that [Kakar] was 200 per cent the choice of the establishment,” she added. “The establishment” is a popular euphemism for Pakistan’s army.
Among his immediate challenges, Kakar must implement the difficult conditions tied to a $3bn IMF loan which Pakistan secured in June to stave off a foreign debt crisis. The loan ends in April next year and Pakistan will then need to find longer term finance to avert a default on its foreign payments.
Pakistan is mired in economic crisis, with inflation running at 35 per cent a year.
Kakar’s home state of Balochistan is Pakistan’s least developed region and is beset by violence which spills over from neighbouring Afghanistan.
But it is home to the Chinese-funded deep water port of Gwadar, the centrepiece of a China-Pakistan economic corridor. Beijing plans to link western China to the Arabian Sea via Gwadar, with road and train links running alongside oil and gas pipelines.