Those who have been toying with the idea of a longer caretaker government of technocrats must now be biting the bullet over the induction of apolitical and non-technocratic species known for their unambitious demeanors -- three out of four happen to be the retired judges living in obscurity.
Both the major parties, according to informed sources, had at the highest level resolved, in one way or the other cancel, to out those dark horses with an ambitious agenda that were being prompted by the local and international establishments. The two leading technocrats, Hafeez Shaikh and Ishrat Husain, fell from favour of the politicians due to their overarching briefs not commensurate with the contours of a brief transition.
The failure of the parliamentary committee to agree on a consensus caretaker prime minister indeed carried an implied preference for Justice (retd.) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, an ethnic Baloch from Balochistan, over Justice (retd.) Nasir Aslam Zahid favoured by the PML-N, hailing from Sindh.
While the PPP was fiercely opposed to Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, besides the fact that he was from president’s home province, the PML-N despite sticking with its nominee had not taken a very adverse position against Khoso, given the sensitivity towards Baloch alienation and the dire need to bring them into the electoral mainstream. And the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) went for Khoso just for this and his being more acceptable than Nasir Aslam Zahid against whose nomination, and other judges’, the Pakistan Bar Council had passed a tougher resolution.
The nomination of Khoso as caretaker PM by the ECP has, however, extraordinarily raised the stock of the ECP that will help the latter extend its writ to every corner of civil administration.
The criteria to select the nominees for five caretakers was essentially informed by the unanimous political urge to bring low-lying caretakers who will just keep their narrow mandate above any other temptation.
As compared to the PML-N, the PPP was not so much in favour of bringing retired judges as caretakers, given its suspicions about the possible alignment of retired and serving judges.
But faced with the front-runner of PML-N, Justice Nasir, Khoso was the best antidote for the poison the PML-N was offering. Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid had, in an interview, boasted of the powers of the prime minister, whether elected or caretaker, must have raised some alarms somewhere. And this is true that a prime minister is the chief executive who could make a difference if he so desired.
As we witnessed sending off of an elected prime minister with a guard of honour for the first time in Pakistan’s history, the democratic transition is smoothly passing through all its initial stages.
The last missing link in the caretaker setups is the most pivotal slot of CM for the main electoral battleground, the Punjab.
The PPP made a brilliant move by offering the Punjab caretaker CM slot first to Asma Jehangir on whose refusal PM Raja Pervaiz Ashraf proposed the name of senior most human rights activist and respected journalist IA Rehman who refused to even discuss the proposition. The PPP came up with yet another brilliant proposal to name Najam Sethi, the star anchor and editor of The Friday Times.
Although the PML-N is still insisting on its nominee Khawaja Zaheer as CM, a bureaucrat of high repute, it will be hard for it to debunk Sethi who could never have consented to PPP’s bait without sounding out Mian Nawaz Sharif. The PML-N, according to inside sources, is divided on Sethi but feels if it will not coopt the latter the ECP may prefer the famous journalist over its nominee.
As soon as the caretaker setups are completed the entire political environment will be swiftly geared towards holding the elections with real powers to be exercised by the ECP and caretakers playing second fiddle to the former.
With judges dominating the caretakers’ and ECP setups, the superior judiciary after having clipped the political wings of President Asif Ali Zardari will emerge as the real sovereign during the transition that must send cold waves through the spines of the PPP that is expecting adverse judgments in the days to come. But beware of the bureaucracy that could play a very crucial role if ECP blinked on any count.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2013.
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