Pakistani caretaker PM Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar (left) takes an oath alongside Pakistan's President Arif Alvi in Islamabad | Credits: Reuters
Anwaar ul Haq Kakar (52) was sworn in as Pakistan’s eighth caretaker prime minister on 14 August 2023, a few days after the National Assembly was dissolved by the coalition Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government. The primary task of such a PM is to conduct elections within the constitutionally stipulated period of three months. Given the polarization in the country and lack of trust between political parties, the scheme of a neutral caretaker set up was devised several decades ago to conduct elections, the results of which everyone could accept.
Unlike previous caretaker governments however, the outgoing PDM government passed legislation that has strengthened this caretaker set up enabling it to make major policy decisions. One reason cited for giving such power was to ensure that it could oversee the implementation of the 9-month $3-billion Standby Arrangement (SBA) of the IMF that is critical for Pakistan’s economy. However, many skeptics have wondered whether such strengthening is actually meant to give it a longer tenure than mandated by the constitution considering that the polls have already been delayed beyond the November deadline. This could be in order to carry out reforms, especially economic, that political parties would find difficult to implement. For example, the mandate of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), the hybrid civil-military-led economic forum, is being expanded into a parallel government stream to take charge of the economy.1
Kakar does not belong to a political family nor is he a tribal leader. Hence, the moot question is why was such a light-weight politician chosen for the job. The answer assumes importance in case Kakar is there for the longer haul.
An ethnic Pashtun belonging to the Kakar tribe, he was born in Balochistan’s Qilla Saifullah District in 1971. He holds a Master’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Balochistan, Quetta. He is also an alumnus of the National Security Workshop from the National Defence University, Islamabad. He is fluent in English, Urdu, Persian, Pashto, Balochi, and Brahvi.
He is regarded as being well-educated, well-read and an avid reader. He is known to use flowery political jargon like repeatedly referring to the Magna Carta, the Westminster model, Jeffersonian Democracy, the New World Order, decolonization, the nation-state, the Renaissance, etc. While being considered an ‘intellectual’, his critics see him as intellectually dishonest, not using his intellectual credentials to speak for the rights of the Baloch.2 On the contrary he is a staunch supporter of what the army is doing in Balochistan.
Kakar served as Information Advisor to the Balochistan chief minister Sanaullah Zehri for a short period and later as spokesman for the Balochistan government between 2015-2017. He was elected a Senator in March 2018 and would have completed his tenure in March 2024. Kakar was one of the architects of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) formed on March 29, 2018, that went on to win the 2018 general elections in the province. Its nominee, Jam Kamal Khan, the party’s president, was installed as the provincial chief minister and another nominee, Sadiq Sanjarani, elected as the Chairman of Pakistan’s Senate, the first-ever Chairman of the Senate from Balochistan.
In his political career Kakar has thrived on one formula: leveraging the army’s desperation for “patriotic Pakistanis” in Balochistan. He knows that Pakistani nationalism sells in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. By projecting himself as a staunch Pakistani nationalist and supportive of the army, he has managed to become the caretaker PM of Pakistan.3
Kakar has at least four things going for him that makes him an attractive proposition for the army: his ability to speak English in a province where this is regarded as a huge plus point; he has regularly accused India of interference; he is a consistent denier of human rights violations in Balochistan; and has strongly defended the army’s policies in the province. He insists that some Baloch and Pashtuns use the “narrative” of a “sense of deprivation” to “blackmail” influential individuals and institutions of Pakistan.” He has been called an ‘unapologetic advocate of the Pakistani state’s violence against the Baloch people and a rare breed of diehard Pakistani nationalists that keeps egging the military to subjugate the Baloch through a policy of divide and rule.4
Kakar also checks a few other boxes for the army. As Malik Siraj Akbar puts it: ‘In a country where a host of “Balochistan experts” cannot differentiate between “Baloch” and “Balochi,” Kakar, with his ability to speak fluent Brahvi, seemed like a Princeton professor on Balochistan affairs.’ He has also been described as “the most important pillar of the [Pakistani] state in Balochistan.5
Kakarhas been a natural choice to be sent abroad to tell the world how happy the Baloch were with Pakistan, how much they loved the country and how false the reports of discontent and disillusion in Baluchistan were. For example, speaking on a panel “The Balochistan Question: Fostering Provincial Cohesion in Pakistan,” on15 April 2016, at the Harvard Pakistan Forum in Cambridge, MA, Kakar said “We are talking about some fancy vocabulary about missing persons, human rights violations by the state of Pakistan… A victim card is being played, and Balochistan’s under-development is being developed into a political narrative.” He argued that the Pakistani forces complied with international norms and had a legitimate right to employ violence in the province. According to him, the numbers provided by the Baloch nationalists on the missing persons were highly exaggerated and the actual number, were not more than 50.6
One notable feature of his talks abroad was to speak less about Balochistan and more about Kashmir. For example, on a trip to the US in the spring of 2019, Kakar met with the Pakistani community in Baltimore on September 23, 2019. One major takeaway that he had to share back home in Balochistan was this: “[The Pakistani] diaspora [in the United States is] deeply concern[ed] over [the] grim human rights situation in Indian occupied Kashmir.7
As soon as he became caretaker PM, among his first statements was that India has turned Kashmir into a jail for its eight million residents and that the issue pertains to the people of Kashmir and not just the territory.8 On a trip to the US for the UNGA session in September 2023, in a conversation at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 21 September,he repeated Pakistan’s standard line on India and human rights violations in Kashmir.
What was significant about his conversation at the CFR were remarks on Hindutva and the distinction he sought to make between it and Hinduism. He underlined that Hindutva was being mainstreamed and this ‘skewed and distorted, revivalist historical views and giving it a political color, and explaining and giving meaning to a new social contract on Indian union’ took its inspiration not from Rousseau but Savarkar. Calling Hindutva the Saffron Brotherhood, he held that it was near to the Nazi brotherhood. He warned that this trend of Hindutva—which was encapsulated and mainstreamed by RSS, and VHP, and other affiliated groups—was an existential threat for the peripheral existence of all the minorities, be it Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and others. The idea that was being propagated, according to him, was that they did not have the peripheral right to exist, or if they wanted to be mainstream, they had to alter their identity. They could be Hindu Christians, or Hindu Muslims, or Hindus Sikhs. Moreover, according to him, Hindutva was not a cultural expression but a purely political one and was a serious challenge for the Indian union to exist as a pluralistic liberal democracy.
He underlined that these ideologues of Hindutva were becoming ‘emboldened in a manner that they are now going beyond the reach. And this initial unfortunate killing of Mr. [Hardeep] Singh [Nijjar]on Canadian soil is a reflection of that ominous tendency.’ He lamented that for obvious economic and strategic reasons, many players in the Western capital had chosen to ignore this reality.
He further associated Hindutva with the ISIS, and center of the right in Europe and the US, calling it ‘a global brotherhood’ of fascism, of chauvinism and of darkness.He warned that and all the decent human beings who believed in pluralistic society, who believed in diversity, who believed and agreed to disagree, should be wary of these tendencies.
He clarified that it was not just the elimination of a single individual but an upcoming challenge with the global order by claiming that they had an alternate order even to Western civilization.
Kakar then went on to make a distinction between Hindutva and ‘the beautiful and decent religion of Hinduism’ he held that Hinduism was all-together a different spiritual experiment of last four or five thousand years, based on the sacred Vedas. He claimed that Hinduism resided in their region, belonged to their region and were even a part of Pakistani identity since they had a sizable Hindu population.
This was blatantly hypocritical and deceitful. His real feelings were revealed in a 2020 tweet in which he stated that he was waiting for all Hindus [not just in Pakistan] to see the enlightened truth of Islam and would wait for a millennium. In another 2020 tweet he said that conversion of Hindu girls in Sindh could not considered forced!
Given his antecedents, it is obvious that Kakar has been mouthing the army’s point of view and will continue to do so. There are likely to be more such assertions in the coming days.
Having placed their man at the helm, the army will have a greater direct say in governance and running the country. Any elected government that follows, whenever it does, will find it difficult to roll back the army’s direct role.
(Exclusive to NatStrat)
Rajinder Kumar Vij
Rajinder Kumar Vij
Devendra Kumar Sharma