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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has chosen an old party hand — who will be handling multiple challenges in the PTI-ruled province and lead the federal government in the war-torn Fata — as his pick for the office of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governor.

A one-line statement issued by the PM Office’s media wing said, simply, “The prime minister has advised the president to appoint Iqbal Zafar Jhagra as governor KP.”

Mr Jhagra, who holds the all-important position of secretary general in the ruling party, was only elected as a senator in March last year. Having lost the May 2013 general elections from his home province of KP, he was accommodated on a general Senate seat from Islamabad.

According to quarters privy to the development, Mr Jhagra’s name emerged as the top choice for the gubernatorial assignment in KP only after intense discussions within the PML-N’s inner sanctum.

The government had been considering a few options, but eventually it was resolved to bring in somebody who the party fully trusted, the source said.

“Considering the army’s continuous engagement in the tribal areas, the pending settlement of temporary displaced persons (TDPs) and the ongoing Afghan peace process, it was suggested that someone fully conversant with all these issues should be given the assignment,” a party office-bearer confided to Dawn.

The office bearer said there was a good likelihood that the military establishment may have suggested that someone with an army background would be good choice.

This was why, he said, the name of incumbent defence secretary retired Lt-Gen Mohammad Alam Khattak was doing the rounds. In fact, a leading media house even carried the news that Lt-Gen Alam had been appointed, which the PM’s Office had to clarify through a formal rejoinder.

Another well-connected PML-N lawmaker said it was Maryam Nawaz Sharif who insisted on Mr Jhagra’s name as a time-tested party loyalist.

When asked how Maryam, who doesn’t formally hold a party position or public office, could influence the PM in such an important decision, the ruling party MNA said she was fast becoming a potent force and may well be “the future face of the party”.

But KP and FATA have serious issues that require serious management. As the chief executive of Fata, the KP governor has a direct impact on the region. Hence, whoever is given the charge must be well equipped to run administrative affairs, said a former security official.

“Being PML-N secretary general, of course, Mr Jhagra will also be spending much of his time looking after party affairs, instead of tending to his original assignment as the chief administrator of Fata.”

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, however, maintained that since he was a Pakhtun, Mr Jhagra was the best choice the PM could have made to serve the people of KP and Fata. “Constitutionally, it’s the right of the prime minister to appoint anybody he deems fit for the job,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2016