ISLAMABAD - Despite standoff between Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) on the issue of caretaker prime minister, the two key stakeholders do have agreement on broader contours and, though separately, they are moving in right direction.Sources in both parties aware of the developments on this front informed that it was the general understanding between the two major stakeholders, especially after Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march and sit-in, that some political personality of impeccable character and having unflinching commitment to the democratic order, should be made caretaker prime minister to allay the chances of introducing some Bangladesh like caretaker set-up for a longer period.Despite sharp differences and enormous trust-deficit between PPP and PML-N, both the main players in the appointment of caretaker prime minister were at least agreed on a point that elections should not be delayed at any pretext and this agreement could ultimately bring them on same page regarding the installation of caretaker set-ups both in centre and in provinces.Earlier, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leadership had initiated the process of consultation on the subject a few months back and initially short-listed about half a dozen names in consultation with the opposition parties including those which are not having any representation in the Parliament right now.Later, in the light of the reflection of the opposition parties on the probable candidates for the slot of caretaker prime minister two names - Justice (Retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Justice (Retd) Shakirullah Jan - were finalised for formal consultation with the Prime Minister as part of the constitutional process for filling the slot..On the other hand the ruling Pakistan People’s Party had not taken any serious steps in this connection up till recently. However, some prominent personalities like Asma Jehangir and former Pakistan Ambassador to United Nations Abdullah Hussain Haroon remained under informal discussion in top party meetings.But the political landscape of the country had taken sharp turn when Tehreek Minhajul Quran chief Dr Tahirul Qadri out of blue landed back in the country from Canada and launched Long March on Federal Capital. The move if not panicked had cautioned the political forces across the spectrum and had given a serious consideration to the need of appointing some political figure or a person with strong and impeccable credentials to help save the democracy from falling prey to the forces of status quo.The Qadri episode and its fall out had compelled the main opposition to revisit its list of candidates for the caretaker prime minister, and democracy-loving people like Mehmood Khan Achakzai, who had earlier refused to be part of the list of opposition parties candidates for the slot had jumped into the fray saying that for saving the system he could assume any role offered to him in caretaker set-up.The PML-N is now in the process of repeating the consultation process and some six names are initially short-listed, which would be finalised in the light of the reflection of the opposition parties on these names.Sources in the PML-N informed that the fresh list of PML-N probable for the slot of caretaker PM included chief of his own faction of Balochistan National Party Sardar Attaullah Mengal, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Justice(retd) Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, Justice(retd) Ajmal Mian, Justice(retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid, Justice(retd) Skahirullah Jan and renowned lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir.While from PPP side the names of Asma Jahangir, former Pakistan Ambassador to United Nations Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Senator Mian Raza Rabbani and a few other names are circulating in the top echelons of the party.The sources in both PPP and PML-N said that although Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan had made it loud and clear that his party would not enter into any sort of consultation with PPP on caretaker prime minister’s issue and would let the matter go to the Chief Election Commissioner for final decision, yet PPP was in constant touch with PML-N leaders through some saner elements.Through these contacts PPP leaders have offered the slot of caretaker prime minister to Senator Ishaq Dar and even proposed the name of Senator Raza Rabbani from PPP side. But the insiders from both the parties said that it could just be a drawing room gossip and there is nothing serious about it.The sources from both the sides did not rule out the emergence of some dark horse in the race for the caretaker prime minister as the names so far came to the fore through sources from these parties are one way or the other not acceptable to these parties for their alignment or leaning to either of these parties.Sources said that the relatively less controversial candidates from among the list of probable candidates of both the parties is PkMP chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, who would by and large be acceptable to almost all the parties, except a few Baloch nationalist parties with whom he had differences.These sources said that initially Mahmood Khan Achakzai had declined his willingness to Ch Nisar when the party had initiated the consultation process a few months back. But later on the persuasion of some common friends in the PPP he had agreed to be part of caretaker set-up, particularly after the Qadri episode.The case of Sardar Attaullah Mengal, head of his own faction of Balochistan National Party, is closed as former chief minister Balochistan has refused to assume such a responsibility.Asma Jahangir, former Supreme Court Bar Association president and renowned human right activist was also in the list of PML-N probable while she is also being considered by the ruling alliance as their candidate for the slot as well, but PML-N would be forced to drop here name from the list because of strong opposition to her candidature from religious parties for her leaning toward a particular group and her stand on Hadood and Blasphemy laws.The names of Justice (Retd) Ajmal Mian and Justice Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui, both former chief justices of Pakistan, included in the list of PML-N probable could not impress the PPP leadership because of their overt leaning towards the PML-N and the role both had played in the ouster of Chief Justice of Pakistan Sajjad Ali Shah in 1997. The later was also presidential candidate of PML-N in 2008 Presidential elections against incumbent President Asif Ali Zardari.Former Supreme Court Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid is relatively a less controversial figure. He was one of the judges of apex court who had refused to take oath under PCO following Gen Musharraf’s coup in 1999. He was also acceptable to MQM for the upright role he had played in early 90s as Chief Justice of Sindh High Court.As for Senator Mian Raza Rabbani’s candidature is concerned a PPP leader on condition of anonymity said that he could win the approval of PML-N leadership but could never secure clearance from President Asif Ali Zardari.Though an upright person with strong international exposure and approval former Pakistan Ambassador to United Nations Abdullah Hussain Haroon could not allay the apprehensions of PML-N about his personal friendship with President Zardari.

Published in The Nation newspaper on 04-Feb-2013