ISLAMABAD: The Zardari-led PPP and Sharif-led PML-N are close to working out a deal that would result in the naming of a consensus caretaker prime minister who will not toe the line of the Establishment and will have the guts to foil any possible attempt to derail democracy by postponing the upcoming elections in the name of reforms and accountability.
According to well-informed circles considered close to the PPP and PML-N leaderships, while the ruling and opposition parties are still busy deliberating upon a consensus caretaker prime minister, they have already agreed upon one vital point – the interim premier will be someone having credible credentials as a tested democrat who would refuse to become a tool of the mighty Establishment.
The top leadership of the two mainstream political parties had earlier appointed with consensus Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), knowing well that he was a man of integrity and would refuse to take any nonsense from anyone, even if the PPP and PML-N failed to agree on the name of the caretaker premier and the ball goes to the court of the Election Commission to take the final decision.
In case the PPP and PML-N succeed in their ongoing efforts to bring in someone with anti-establishment credentials to supervise the elections, it will be unprecedented in the Pakistani history. Ever since the restoration of democracy in Pakistan in 1988, the Establishment had always appointed its pawns as caretaker prime ministers to oversee the successive general elections. Each time the Bhutto or Sharif governments were sent packing prematurely in the past under the Eighth Constitutional Amendment [which has already been repealed], the Establishment, while conspiring with the opposition party, had brought in weak people like Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Balakh Sher Mazari, Moeen Qureshi, Meraj Khalid and Mohammadmian Soomro as caretaker premiers to hold the elections.
Almost all these caretakers had acted as rubber stamp premiers after being appointed and had played in the hands of the Establishment given the fact that in the absence of any decision-making body, there was no one to influence them, except for the mighty Establishment. Therefore, the PPP and PML-N, having learnt from their mistakes, are adamant to bring in an anti-Establishment caretaker prime minister who would not be dependent upon the Establishment, who would be a democrat and whose only agenda would be to hold fair, free and impartial elections, besides thwarting any possible attempts to derail the hard-won democracy.
Tahirul Qadri’s decision of leading a long march on Islamabad on January 14, which has already been interpreted by the PPP and PML-N as a conspiracy to postpone the coming polls, has evoked a remarkable convergence amongst the mainstream political parties to resist any such adventure.
According to well-informed circles considered close to the PPP and PML-N leaderships, the two parties have agreed not to propose the name of a former judge for the caretaker premiership. Earlier, the names of Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, Justice (retd) Sardar Raza, Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan and Justice (retd) Saeeduzamman Siddiqi were being discussed in the media for the key slot. A consensus now seems to be emerging among the political leadership that the caretaker premier should preferably be a senior politician instead of a technocrat.
The name which is being discussed the most nowadays in the political circles of the federal capital is that of Pakhtoon nationalist leader, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, who is the chairman of the Pakhtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP).
Well-informed circles say the PPP and PML-N leadership is seriously considering Achakzai’s name, being someone whose candidature would not be opposed, at least, by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Achakzai enjoys unblemished democratic credentials being the only Pashtun nationalist to be elected as a member of the National Assembly from Balochistan in the 2002 electoral sweep of the Pashtun belt by the religio-political alliance of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).
On his part, Achakzai has already held two separate meetings in the recent past with Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Nawaz Sharif. Asked about the possibility of being named the caretaker premier, Achakzai had stated if he was given the chance, he would serve the country to his best to achieve the goal of transparent elections. Achakzai’s name had actually been floated by the PML-N along with six other names including that of Attaullah Khan Mengal, another Baloch nationalist leader, and Rasool Baksh Palejo, a Sindhi nationalist leader.
However, two other names which are being seriously deliberated upon by the PPP and PML-N leadership for the slot of interim premier are Raza Rabbani and Ishaq Dar. While a majority of PML-N leaders don’t have any objection to Rabbani being made the caretaker premier, there are those within the PPP who oppose his candidature being a dissenting voice within his own party, saying he is too stubborn and too principled when it comes to decision making.
Some even say his name was floated by the PML-N while citing his uprightness. While Raza Rabbani may eventually prove to be a dark horse in the run for the interim premiership, Ishaq Dar also stands a chance of getting nominated for the slot, especially after the PPP leadership has cleared his name. But Dar too is facing opposition from within, reportedly by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Mian Shahbaz Sharif.
Interestingly, Ishaq Dar’s name for the top slot had been first floated by the PPP during negotiations with the PML-N which were held to bring the Sharif-led party back on board after it had discarded the coalition government soon after the 2008 polls. His name has once again been floated by the PPP keeping in view the fact that he is a close relative of Nawaz Sharif and his nomination will give an equal representation to the PML-N in the caretaker set-up besides countering Ch Nisar Ali’s demand of Asif Zardari’s removal as the president to ensure fair and free polls.
But Dar’s name is being opposed by Nisar and Shahbaz, fearing that he might become the future prime minister after the elections if the PML-N wins majority in the National Assembly and Nawaz Sharif decides to assume the role of Sonia Gandhi. Both Nisar and Shahbaz had been vying for the prime ministership since long. Another name which is also being discussed for the caretaker premiership is that of Asma Jahangir, an eminent anti-Establishment human rights activist whose democratic credentials are well-established.
However, the prime concern of the PPP and PML-N leadership at this stage remains the holding of an in-time fair and free election in a peaceful atmosphere, without giving any chance to the Establishment to spoil the broth.
Insiders in the PPP and PML-N even claim that in a bid to save the present democratic dispensation, both the parties could even join hands to form a coalition government if the 2013 elections give birth to a hung parliament.
This could allow Asif Ali Zardari to continue as the president, with Nawaz Sharif becoming his prime minister. The PML-N president is on record having stated that he would not have any problem getting the oath of premiership from President Asif Zardari.
Keeping in view these possible scenarios, one wonders if the all-powerful Establishment would easily allow the two mainstream political parties to do whatever they want to, including the possible appointment of an anti-Establishment caretaker prime minister for the first time in the country’s history.
It may be recalled that having dismissed the first government of Benazir Bhutto which was elected in 1988 after the death of General Zia, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan had acted on the advice of the Establishment and appointed Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi as the caretaker PM. These polls were maneouvered by the Establishment by distributing money among Nawaz Sharif and several other leaders of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). The Sharif-led alliance subsequently won the election.
After getting rid of the first government of Nawaz Sharif, President Ishaq had appointed Mir Balakh Sher Mazari but his term came to an abrupt end when the Supreme Court overturned the presidential dissolution order and restored the Sharif government. As the then Army Chief General Abdul Waheed Kakar made both Sharif and Ishaq to quit their respective offices in July 1993, Moeen Qureshi was appointed PM to hold the 1993 elections which were won by the PPP.
President Farooq Leghari dismissed her second government in November 1996 and made the then Speaker of the National Assembly Malik Meraj Khalid to become his caretaker premier to supervise the 1997 polls which were won by the Sharif-led PML-N. Following the dismissal of the Sharif government in November 1999, there was no prime minister in the country for the next three years. The Musharraf regime had arranged the next elections in October 2002 without appointing any caretaker premier.