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April 3, 2018

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Who will be caretaker PM?

ISLAMABAD: Although, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition will formally exchange the list of nominees for the caretaker prime minister next week, several names are under consideration, including those likely to be acceptable to the government and the opposition. Difference of opinion, however, persists over the question whether the top office holder should be a technocrat, a retired judge or a politician.

The former Governor State Bank of Pakistan, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, has emerged as a top contender who enjoys the backing of the government and the opposition and also the military establishment. That he is capable enough to manage the economy during the transition period is cited as his strong qualification. How will he be able to ward off pressure from the powerful circles remains an unresolved puzzle.

His recently published book “Governing the Ungovernable” drops a few hints on how he mustered consensus within the government circles. Ishrat lavishly praised Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif in the book declaring him a role model for the chief executives of other provinces and attributed the PML-N victory in 2013 elections to the performance of Chief Minister Punjab. Shehbaz Sharif presided over the book launching ceremony in Lahore in February wherein he described his participation as “an honour and matter of immense pleasure”.

Ishrat’s name is not under consideration for the first time. He was a candidate for this slot in 2013 as well. The PPP, then the ruling party, had proposed his name. Even now, his name is under consideration at the top level in the PPP circles. Background discussions with the informed leaders in the PML-N circles indicate he is among the hot favorites. Whether he will make it or not remains to be seen as, as the proverb goes, there are many a slip between the cup and the lip. More so because he lost the race in 2013 at the eleventh hour. Then, Sartaj Aziz, his decade-old friend, had assured him at a dinner in Lahore a day before the final nomination in 2013 that the PML-N would also support him. Sartaj was the party’s secretary general then. What turned out the next day was that Mir Hazar Khan Khoso became the caretaker premier.

Sartaj himself had had the hard luck twice when the PML-N decided to elect him as President of Pakistan in 1997 and 2013 but that didn’t happen. In 2013, he was called in by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the PM House where his family members and the kitchen cabinet were also present. That he has been finalised for the presidential post was conveyed to Sartaj and even sweets were distributed. Next day, Mamnoon Hussain, emerged as the dark horse.

Another candidate for the caretaker prime minister is the former chief justice Tasadduq Hussain Jillani. The proposal is under circulation within the government circles amid hopes that the PPP wouldn’t object to this nomination as Jillani is a close relative of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. His name has come under consideration keeping in view the increasing interference of the judiciary in the political affairs and Chief Justice Saqib Nisar’s resolve to play a role in holding fair and free elections through massive reshuffling in the bureaucracy. Given his judicial background and experience of working with the present lot of the judiciary, it is thought he would be in a better position to coordinate with the sitting judges who worked under him.

That the posts of the chief election commissioner and chairman NAB have already been given to the retired judges without noting any difference on coordination front is a counter-argument. Both the above contenders, Dr Ishrat Hussain and Justice Tasadduq Jillani, deny having been contacted for the consultations. Ishrat said he has been getting this question from journalists but not approached by the decision-makers. Justice Jillani said he has not been intimated either.

Then there is a third option: naming a politician for the top slot. The PPP is deliberating on the name of Engineer Shaukat Ullah, a former KP Governor. His qualification is that he is from Fata. The PML-N in the meanwhile has not considered any such name, it has been learnt.

“We don’t have much hopes to attach with Asif Ali Zardari,” a senior PML-N leader said: “As he is set to endorse the name, he will be asked from the powers-that-be like he did in the case of Sadiq Sanjrani.” Asked what would be his party’s choice in an ideal situation, he replied: “We would like Senator Raza Rabbani for the slot of prime minister and Farhatullah Babar as the chief minister Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.”

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