Pakistan did not experience an interim government — particularly an interim prime minster — in much of its early to advanced timeline. It was in the early 1990s when the country had its first interim set up, led by the late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, who ostensibly disagreed with the politics and policy of the dissolved Bhutto government (1988-90). As a result of the rigged 1990 election supervised by the interim government, Nawaz Sharif assumed the Prime Minister’s (PM) office for the first time. Within two and a half years, he developed serious policy disagreements with both the military and the presidency that eventually cost him his government.
To fill the void, Mir Balakh Sher Mazari, supposedly affiliated with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was appointed the caretaker PM. Meanwhile, Nawaz pleaded his dismissal in the apex court, which decided in his favour. The latter resumed charge but succumbed to the whims of the powers that nourished him in the first place. Interestingly, then, within a span of two months, the country had another interim PM, the late Moinuddin Qureshi, a US based technocrat, who oversighted the conduct of the 1993 election that brought Benazir Bhutto into the prime ministerial office. Lo and behold, within a couple of years, Benazir too developed irreconcilable differences with the presidency that was strategically backed by the powers that be. Little wonder, the 1997 election, that registered a massive victory for the PML-N, was conducted under an interim set up led by Malik Meraj Khalid. However, before the country could witness another stint of a caretaker setup, Sharif’s government was toppled by General Pervez Musharraf in a coup — this country’s fourth.
In the post-Musharraf period, the semblance of democracy was restored with the 2008 elections, held under an interim dispensation led by Muhamamd Mian Soomro, who was affiliated with the PML-Q, the party that ruled in alliance with Musharraf and also won a considerable number of seats in the said election. Indeed, the PMLQ, later on, joined the PPP led federal and provincial government. When the PPP government completed its tenure, Pakistan went for another election held in May 2013 under our last interim government led by Mir Hazar Khan Khoso who apparently did not carry any political affiliation.
PM Shahid Khakan Abbasi and the leader of the opposition, Syed Kursheed Shah, have held several in camera meetings in order to decide on a candidate. The media have reported various names for this slot
Until 2008, under the terms of the 1973 Constitution, the outgoing government had an important role in the establishment of an interim set up. Informally, however, the powerful security establishment provided approval to such structures. Since 2010, after the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, the rules of the game have been modified, whereby both the departing government and the opposition, in the first category, are supposed to establish a caretaker set up consensually. If they fail within a stipulated timeframe, the matter gets referred to a parliamentary committee; if that fails, the Election Commission, in the last category, assumes an arbitrary role in the appointment of an interim PM.
Because the existing National Assembly will expire on May 30, PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the leader of the opposition, Syed Kursheed Shah, have held several in camera meetings in order to decide on a candidate. The media have reported various names for this slot. The outgoing government floated, for instance, the name of former ECP secretary, Mr Ishtiaq Ahmad who is seen indifferently by the opposition. The latter, including the PTI named former State Bank governor, Ishrat Husain, for the position. Some PPP circles are reportedly mentioning the former SC Chief Justice, Tassaduq Hussain Gilani. Moreover, some in the media favoured Dr Hafeez Pasha, a policy economist, while other bet on Dr Maliha Lodhi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN.
If the outgoing government wants to reduce bitterness with the militablishment and is focused on transitional democracy, Dr Husain offers a rational choice
The list is extendable, but time is running out. Which means that both the government and the opposition will most likely have to pick one of the above mentioned names as our next interim PM. Who could it be? If analysed objectively based on the credentials, politics, and strategic profile of the candidates, the former ECP secretary may not be acceptable to the PPP led opposition for apparently having a soft corner for the PMLN. Similarly, the former CJ may not be reconciled by the PMLN as he is a relative of Yousaf Raza Gilani, a PPP influential. Moreover, Tassaduq Gilani seems not to be in the good books of the militablishment, too, for certain observations and judgments of his era. Dr Maliha Lodhi, on the other hand, seems like a non-controversial candidate for all the actors concerned. However, since she is serving the county at the UN relatively well, her chances to be called for the new assignment may be remote.
Similarly, Dr Hafeez Pasha is a seasoned academic, researcher and administrator. His age factor may be ranked in favour of another economist, Dr Ishrat Husain who is supported by the opposition and may carry the confidence of the powers that be.
If the outgoing government wants to reduce bitterness with the militablishment and is focused on transitional democracy, Dr Husain offers a rational choice. However, if we are surprised, since Pakistan politics is full of many, and someone else assumes the charge, be ready for a hot summer where people will be reminded of the bygone days of Fakhruddin G Ibrahim. Last but not least, if Pakistan’s electoral history is any guide, an interim government not only influences the conduct and outcome of the election, but also the formation of the new government.
The writer is Head, Department of Social Sciences, Iqra University, Islamabad. He is a DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright Fellow. He tweets @ejazbhatty
Published in Daily Times, May 22nd 2018.