Head of Pakistan Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party, Mehmood Khan Achakzai. — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The presence of Mehmood Khan Achakzai, considered to be a leading candidate for the post of caretaker prime minister, at a function at the presidency and extraordinary protocol given to him was noticed by everyone.

The head of Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) was the only leader from any party other than the PPP to attend the lunch hosted by President Asif Ali Zardari in honour of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr Achakzai was given what appeared to be extraordinary protocol and he shared the main table with President Zardari, President Abbas and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. The PkMAP chief was seated next to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Mr Achakzai was surrounded by hangers-on trying to please him, apparently because he could be the caretaker prime minister.

“We saw that some ministers and frontline leaders of the PPP were moving around him as they were trying to please him,” a senior official who attended the lunch told Dawn.

Talking to journalists, the PkMAP chief himself refused to comment on the issue of caretaker prime minister. He said: “I will not talk on caretaker prime minister.”

He, however, said election must be held after the expiry of five-year term of the PPP-led coalition government on March 16.

He said: “Election should be held at any cost, even if Chacha (uncle) Fazlur Rehman wins.”

Mr Achakzai has said on several occasions that he was not interested in becoming caretaker prime minister, but in his latest statement he said PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif wanted him to take the post.

According to the Constitution, the caretaker prime minister will be appointed with the consent of the ruling coalition and Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly who belongs to the PML-N.

When contacted, Presidency’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar had nothing to say when asked why Mr Achakzai had attended the lunch where no other leader of any political party had been invited. “I have to check with the people concerned why he was invited to the ceremony,” he said.

He agreed that the presence of PkMAP chief was quite significant because of media reports that he was one of the strongest candidates for the post of caretaker prime minister.

Mr Babar said no meeting between Mr Achakzai and President Zardari had taken place. “He did not meet President Zardari before or after the lunch.”

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on Sunday that the government and the PML-N would suggest two names each for the post of caretaker prime minister.

Under the Constitution, the prime minister shall be appointed by the president in consultation with the prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing National Assembly and in the case of a disagreement within three days of the dissolution of the National Assembly, the prime minister and Leader of Opposition shall forward two nominees each to a committee to be constituted by the National Assembly speaker comprising eight members of the outgoing assembly or the Senate or both having equal representation from the treasury and the opposition.