The Punjab caretaker government, by deciding on a property survey of the province to begin on Friday (tomorrow), seems to show a different understanding of the caretaker role than that of its federal counterpart. The federal government refused to name a judge to constitute a court where General (r) Pervez Musharraf might be tried for subverting the constitution on the ground, presented only on Monday in the Supreme Court, though the Attorney General, that it could not take any step which could be reversed by the next government. On the other hand, Punjab has taken a step which will take till end June to reach completion, over six weeks beyond the next elections, and which will only be half-finished when the elected government takes office. The survey is long overdue, the last such survey having been carried out 12 years ago. By that token, even the federal government should have moved to take all steps which have are long overdue. Apart from trying General Musharraf, the decennial census, due since 2007, is also a federal duty.

It should not be forgotten that the elected government could halt the survey, and cancel it even if it is completed, but that does not seem to have deterred the caretakers. Is it to be assumed that the caretakers only hold office to provide cover to bureaucratic decisions? The survey decision seems to have been taken only because a certain item on the cabinet agenda was reached. Does that mean, therefore, that the decision not to prosecute General Musharraf was not taken by the caretaker government, but some faceless bureaucrat? It is true that the first task of a caretaker government has to be the conduct of elections, and it must ensure that there is no distraction from this task. It is also true that the provincial governments are at the cutting edge of the holding of these elections, but if the latter are able to conduct a province-wide survey, usually the former can initiate a trial?

The federal and provincial governments must make the effort needed to get on the same page. Either caretaker governments cannot take steps beyond their time, in which case they can neither nominate a judge nor conduct a property survey, or they can do both. If the survey is to go ahead, it would be wise for the caretaker Punjab government to first ensure itself that the next government will have to be committed to accepting and implementing the results. By the same token, the federal government might wish to make the leading parties give a commitment on trying Musharraf, and then go ahead with doing what is necessary.