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PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif. — Photo by AP/File

ISLAMABAD, July 15: The PML-N has denied holding any back-channel talks with the PPP over a caretaker set-up.

Talking to Dawn, party leaders said discussion on a caretaker set-up would be possible only after the government resolved its standoff with judiciary over the issue of the letter to be written to Swiss authorities for reopening graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

“I absolutely deny reports doing the rounds in political circles that the PML-N is secretly talking to PPP leaders over the future election date and names for the caretaker set-up,” said Senator Pervez Rashid of the PML-N.

The senator, considered to be close to the Sharif brothers, said for all this to happen the PPP would have to announce that it was willing to go for early elections “which I don’t think the ruling party is looking interested in at the moment. Instead, it seems the PPP is gearing up for a tough fight with the judiciary”.

For the post of the chief election commissioner, the PML-N discussed different names, including that of Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G.

Ebrahim, who was eventually appointed to the position, even with opposition parties outside the parliament.

And the PML-N would repeat the same exercise over the appointment of a caretaker prime minister, added Senator Rashid.

A senior PML-N leader, requesting anonymity, said political commentators should understand that the main sticking point in the way of smooth transition to the next elected government was one ‘letter’ which Mr Gilani had refused to write. And Raja Pervez Ashraf appeared to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor.

“Suppose, tomorrow the government decides to write the said letter to Swiss judicial authorities, or the Supreme Court sets up a commission to handle the issue, and the problem stands resolved, his party will have no ground to demand early elections,” the PML-N leader said.

But the PPP leadership has repeatedly said that no letter will be written against President Asif Ali Zardari, come what may.

Therefore, it will not agree for a caretaker set-up which, in accordance with the Supreme Court order, would write the letter, the PML-N leader said.

The more important thing, he said, was that under no circumstances the PML-N would agree for early elections or a caretaker set-up which would allow the PPP to violate the SC decision for reopening money-laundering cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. Thus, the PPP-PML-N agreement over a future caretaker setup was out of question, unless the former did not comply with the SC orders, argued the PML-N leader.

“Contacts at the level of opposition leader, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, is a routine thing, but here is no such thing, at least not to my knowledge, which one can be construed as if the two parties are close to strike a deal over the names or composition of a caretaker set-up,” said Mr Ahsan Iqbal, Deputy Secretary General of the PML-N.

Commenting on names of known lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir, and the country’s permanent representative to UN Hussain Haroon appeared in a section of the press as caretaker PMs, Mr Iqbal said a caretaker prime minister could be anybody but not from the PML-N and PPP.

When asked to comment on the situation, newly appointed Adviser to the Prime Minister on Political Affairs, Fawad Chaudhry, said the PPP was in no mood of holding early elections and was fully concentrating on managing the electricity shortage.

Mr Chaudhry, who is also part of the Prime Minister’s legal team defending him in the Supreme Court in the NRO implementation case, said he had no information whatsoever with regard to talks between the two parties over early elections.

And, a PPP source close to President Zardari, said the agreement had accepted the SC decision about former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani without any reaction, but this time the party is in no mood of giving in so easily.

The SC has given July 25 as the deadline for PM Raja Ashraf to write the letter to Swiss courts or face consequences which may be his removal as the chief executive of the country, and July 23 to hear multiple petitions challenging the new contempt of court act.

Meanwhile, rumour mills kept on working overtime churning out theories about how the two main parties, after the appointment of Justice (retd) Ebrahim as a consensus CEC, were proactively working for a possible future date for early general elections and names for a caretaker prime minister.