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Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: With only a couple of days remaining for the selection of a caretaker prime minister before the matter goes to an eight-member bipartisan parliamentary committee, backchannel talks between the PPP and PML-N remained bogged down till Sunday night.

As stalemate continues, more names are being suggested for the post, strengthening a perception that eventually a dark horse might emerge as the winner, according to sources close to the leaders of both sides.

“More names may be considered for the post of caretaker prime minister because both sides have agreed to discuss new names,” PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira told Dawn on Sunday. “Both PPP and PML-N have options to propose any name for the post till the matter is sent to the parliamentary committee,” he said.

At the moment, Mr Kaira said, there was a deadlock and efforts were being made to reach an accord.

“The government has some reservations over the names proposed by the leader of the opposition but we are still ready to listen to the opposition,” Mr Kaira said.

However, he said, although the option of more names was open, the PPP was trying to persuade the opposition to accept the name of Dr Ishrat Husain, a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.

After the two sides rejected each other’s nominees, the names of Senators Raza Rabbani (PPP), Ishaq Dar (PML-N), Afrasyab Khattak (ANP), head of Pakistan Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) Mehmood Khan Achakzai and senior lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jehangir are being mentioned for the job. Mr Kaira ruled out the name of Mr Achakzai and said the PkMAP chief and his party wanted to contest the elections and, therefore, he would never like to become the caretaker prime minister. However, he said the names of Asma Jehangir and Afrasyab Khattak could be considered by the PPP.

On the other hand, the office of the leader of the opposition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said in a press statement on Sunday that no changes would be made in the two names proposed by him after consultations with 13 opposition parties. He also rejected to reconsider the name of Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan who was initially among the three names proposed by him but withdrew later for unexplained reasons. Chaudhry Nisar, according to the statement, also rejected a perception about any behind-the-scene contacts with the PPP side.

Fearing that the selection of the caretaker prime minister will become difficult at the committee level where it is still not clear whether the leader of the opposition will give the MQM and JUI-F representation from the opposition, efforts are being made to resolve the issue at the first stage.

“As of Sunday, both sides are sticking to their nominations. However, intermediaries are working hard to create consensus over one name from among the six names proposed by the two sides, or someone else before the choice narrows down to four names as envisaged in Article 224-A of the Constitution,” said a PPP source close to President Asif Ali Zardari.

If the prime minister and the leader of opposition don’t reach an agreement over one name within three days after dissolution of the National Assembly, both sides will have to put forward two names each to the committee to make a final selection within three days, says Article 224-A. In case of deadlock at the committee level, the same four names will automatically stand transferred to the Election Commission of Pakistan which will pick one of them for the post of caretaker prime minister.

“Hectic efforts are being made by both sides to pick one agreed candidate before our hands are tied after Article 224-A has been invoked,” said a PML-N office-bearer.

But, he said, a section within in the PML-N led by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan believed the ECP was the right place to select the caretaker prime minister and, therefore, he stood for taking a tough stand on his party’s nominations if the government didn’t accept them.

According to Chaudhry Nisar, Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Awami Tehrik founder Rasul Bakhsh Palijo are the final two names from the opposition. Chaudhry Nisar has rejected all three names – Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Dr Ishrat Husain and Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso – proposed by the PPP.

According to the opposition source, Chaudhry Nisar is also of the view that all four nominations for the parliamentary committee should be made only from within the PML-N since under the Constitution only he was allowed to do so in order to avoid the risk of a majority vote at the committee level.

But constitutional experts including S.M. Zafar argue that with the MQM and JUI-F sitting on the opposition benches the leader of opposition will have to give them representation if the task of selecting the caretaker prime minister is given to the committee.

The PPP has already proposed its four names from the government side for the parliamentary committee, while the PML-N has so far not announced any name.

Responding to a question about rejection of all three names proposed by the PML-N, Mr Kaira said Dr Ishrat Husain was the most appropriate person for the post being a non-controversial and apolitical figure with a vast experience in administration. “The opposition party’s only logic behind rejecting Ishrat Husain’s name is that he had served during the Musharraf regime.”

He said the PPP disagreed with the names proposed by the PML-N because of logical reasons. “We rejected the name of Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid because he made a false case against President Asif Ali Zardari for the murder of his brother-in-law and Rasul Bakhsh Palijo’s name was not acceptable because his son has made an alliance against the PPP in Sindh and he was contesting polls against us,” the former information minister said.

But the sources from both sides believe that a breakthrough will be made in a couple of days, till March 19, the deadline for consultation between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.