ISLAMABAD: A 14-member caretaker federal cabinet, including a woman minister, consisting of apolitical people, was sworn in on Tuesday, which completed the constitutional process for free, fair and transparent elections in the country on May 11.

President Asif Ali Zardari administered the oath to the caretaker cabinet members at a simple ceremony which was attended by Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso and others, including former federal ministers.

Those who took oath were Ahmed Bilal Sufi, Dr Musaddiq Malik, Arif Nizami, Shahzada Ahsan Ashraf Sheikh and Shahzada Jamal from Punjab, Sohail Wajahat H Siddique, Maqbool HH Rahmatullah and senior orthopaedic surgeon Professor Younus Soomro from Sindh, Abdul Malik Kasi, Asad Ullah Mandokhel and Mir Hassan Dhomki from Balochistan, Abdur Rab Nishtar's grandson's wife, Dr Sania Nishtar and Feroze Jamal Shah Kakakhel from KPK.

Initially, 15 chairs were placed for the oath of the caretaker ministers, but one chair was removed at the eleventh hour because of the absence of Dr Mushtaq Khan from Sindh who was supposed to take oath as 15th caretaker minister. There was no official word about his absence, but some knowledgeable sources believed Dr Mushtaq Khan will take oath later.

It is learnt Dr Mushtaq Khan, a professional banker, is supposed to take oath as finance minister, but some sources are of the view that he has been tipped as caretaker foreign minister.

Dr Khan, a Wilson Center’s Pakistani scholar for the year 2005-06, was chosen as vice president and country strategist, Citibank NA, Karachi. Prior to joining Citibank three years ago, he was an economic adviser to the State Bank of Pakistan, seconded from ABN-Amro Bank where he had been vice president and chief economist in the economics department since 1996. Earlier, Dr Khan served as a consultant to the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and Pakistan’s National Development Finance Corporation.

He holds a PhD degree in economics from Stanford University, besides doing graduation from New York's Vassar College. Dr Khan spent nine months in a residence at the Wilson Center in September 2005, carrying out research and writing on a project titled “9/11 and the Pakistan Economy: A Look at the Impact on the Financial Sector”.

However, according to a senior government official, it was premature to predict the potential portfolios of the caretaker ministers, saying the matter was primarily to be decided by the prime minister, hoping this could happen tonight.

Later, talking to newsmen‚ some newly appointed caretaker ministers expressed resolve of the caretaker government to hold free, fair and transparent elections. They said the mandate of the caretaker government was to hold free‚ fair and transparent elections and they would take every possible measure to achieve this objective.

Federal Minister Arif Nizami said the government would take all possible measures to hold transparent elections. He added the elections would be fair in the presence of an independent and assertive election commission and the caretaker government would provide necessary support to the ECP.

When asked how he looked at the law and order situation in the country, the minister said there could be law and order issues and the government would have to address them on priority basis.

If given the portfolio of information and broadcasting‚ he would strive to build consensus on code of conduct for media during the elections by taking all stakeholders on board, Nizami said.

Arif Nizami observed media in Pakistan was independent and he would not like to place any curbs on it. He‚ however‚ said freedom should be exercised with responsibility.

Malik Muhammad Habib‚ another federal minister who is likely to be assigned the portfolio of interior‚ said it would be his priority to improve the law and order situation to ensure holding of elections in a peaceful atmosphere.

He said every step would be taken to create a peaceful environment during the elections. The minister said he would visit Balochistan to see what measures could be taken to improve security environment there.

Federal Minister Dr Sania Nishtar who is likely to get the portfolio of health and education said an active and effective election commission had been given the task of holding free, fair and transparent elections and they would fully support it to achieve this objective.