Looking for a caretaker
EVER been to a place in the country which has a chowkidar of its own, someone belonging to the same locality?
This is one job where the old policy, of keeping local elements out of the (nightly) flings with power, is diligently followed. The watchman, by an unwritten rule, is a protector from some remote land who quite often speaks some other language.
The politicians, being the closest to the popular locales and their preferences, appear to often follow the same principle. They are right now looking for a chowkidar, a caretaker, to carry them through from one government to another. The ‘candidates’ they have come up with include many names, but among them the politicians are the least likely to generate consensus.
These are not nominations and more a wish list, not even a wish list given some of the naughty names that have been thrown around. These are pawns on the chessboard. With all this hype about an impending election, many of the tasks which need to be done urgently haven’t quite as yet begun.
The search for a reliable caretaker is one of them. It seems a façade for parties ostensibly deliberating over the subject while actually they are waiting for the chief security officers to deliver to them a caretaker.
The list is overwhelmingly non-political, comprising some bizarre proposals even before someone — or was it the good doctor himself? — suggested that Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan was the best man for this post as well.
Another revealing option put forward was Mian Raza Rabbani — a PPP senator who was then found to be unsuited for the PPP’s own taste and unlikely to get presidential approval, even if it was presumed that he would win the trust of others with stakes in the general polls.
Ishaq Dar, Rabbani’s counterpart in the PML-N, has been another piece on the chessboard, identified by some as a possible candidate. But his party says it would rather use Dar in a role he has never been famous for: as an important poll campaigner.
If that is not a good enough excuse, the names of Rabbani and Dar appear to have their origins in an observer’s desire to find a candidate with some hope of winning cross-party approval. There are far too many interest groups to allow an active member of a major party to fill in as caretaker.
Two politicians whose names have more regularly been discussed as possible caretaker prime ministers have their political base in Balochistan. There is Sardar Ataullah Mengal, who the PML-N has repeatedly used to show its commitment to rescuing Balochistan, as also Mahmood Khan Achakzai. For all we know, their nominations have so far not been backed by politicians in their home province, the most difficult territory on the electoral map.
This backing has to be a prerequisite for a more formal candidature, that is if the proposers are serious in nominating these two gentlemen. If not from Balochistan, the nomination has to come via Balochistan. In any case neither of the two gentlemen looks eager and there is hardly any follow-up activity which would suggest that anyone is too willing to push through one of these choices.
On the list are also a couple of honourable judges, and while the search is still young there have already been moments when Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid (retd) has emerged as the likely compromise candidate for the caretaker’s post. Just the opposite, Asma Jahangir has lived up to her old promise of generating extreme emotions. Given the number of lines that have been written on her after her name was ‘proposed’ by the PML-N, she has to be taken as the most controversial of the ‘possible’ interim prime ministers.
The concerted attack on Asma is reflective of the influence of a group of opinion-makers powerful enough to quarrel with the two biggest parties in the country. For whatever reason, the PML-N named her and PPP leaders were then quoted as welcoming the proposal. If there were any chances of these early overtures leading to Asma’s selection as caretaker, powerful commentators have been at their most patriotic to block the move.
It does not matter to them whether the ‘nominee’ herself has shown any interest in the assignment or not. The mere mention of her name is enough to agitate conscientious critics who cannot have a ‘traitor’ officiating as an interim head of government.
The vicious assault on Asma Jahangir’s person aside, she is one of those who could be expected to undertake an assignment according to the rules, with honesty and with the competence which no one talks about here after a certificate of good moral character has been granted or denied to a person. Still, she is far from the right choice as caretaker. The caretaker must ideally be a politician.
The PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira leaves it only half said when he vows not to end up with a caretaker set-up of technocrats. He can improve on this by actively pursuing an interim government with a politician at its head.
As they prepare to contest power among themselves for another five years, and before a winner is decided, this is a crucial time for Pakistani politicians to show maturity. While they swear by democracy they should be able to send a strong message to everyone around that they are capable of sorting out their affairs by themselves, and for the people.
Not that caretakers must always come from political stock. But this is a boost democracy in the country could certainly do with at this moment. Why would they want to begin a new phase on a note where they are shown to be in desperate need of a former judge or lawyer or, for that matter, an ex-bureaucrat as guarantor of a smooth transition? They should find a politician who can oversee the transition efficiently.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.