Two (many) cooks in G-B: ‘CM, opposition agree over candidate for caretaker setup’

GILGIT: A deal has reportedly been struck under the table between Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Chief Minister (CM) Mehdi Shah and opposition leader Janbaz Khan to nominate a ‘suitable candidate’ as caretaker CM for when the government completes its term.

Shah, who will step down on December 10, supposedly passed over most of his party members when choosing the person to replace him as the caretaker chief minister. The interim set-up will be announced by the federal government in a day or two after recommendations from the CM and the opposition leader.

“Instead of consulting his close aides, he relied heavily on the opposition leader for the appointment of a caretaker CM,” an insider told The Express Tribune on Sunday. “The candidate could be someone who assured him he would ‘go soft’ in Shah’s home constituency during elections,” said the chief minister’s close aide.

Analysts said Janbaz Khan, who belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), has acted more like a member of Shah’s kitchen cabinet than an opposition leader over the years.

“Though the CM and opposition leader are entitled to jointly recommend a candidate for CM, the final name is usually put forward after party members from both sides are taken onboard,” said an official privy to these developments. “However, it is the opposite in this case.”

Analysts believed the chief minister was apparently doing this to embarrass PML-N regional chief Hafeezur Rahman and form cracks in the ranks of the opposition party, which could be a real threat in the coming elections,

“Janbaz Khan also has a personal grudge against the PML-N regional chief and now sees a chance to show his superiority over Hafeezur Rahman,” said political analyst Masroor Wali.

The leader of the opposition always had an easy relationship with the Mehdi Shah government, which was time and again accused of corruption in several departments during its five-year tenure, said Wali. “Khan often sided with Shah on issues his regional chief criticised in the past.”

“The only real opposition, if any, came in the assembly from nationalist leader Nawaz Khan Naji and Sultan Ali of PML-N.”

Candidates

“Initially there were five candidates in the race for caretaker chief minister,” said the official. “However, we have finally arrived at a consensus over a single name,” he told The Express Tribune on Sunday.

The candidates included Zafar Iqbal, Sher Jehan Mir, Syed Afzal, Noor Muhammad and Muhammad Yaqoob.

Iqbal is a former bureaucrat who also headed the government-sponsored transport company NATCO for a decade.

Mir is a banker in G-B. One of the feathers in his cap is that he almost singlehandedly made Karakoram Cooperative Bank the largest financial institution of its kind in the region. However, he reportedly expressed no interest in accepting the caretaker chief minister’s slot when asked.

Syed Afzal is an influential politician who has forged close ties with both the CM and the opposition leader over the years. Muhammad Yaqoob is a retired judge of G-B’s supreme appellate court and Noor Khan is a development expert who has worked on Aga Khan-funded projects for some years.

“The race is on but Zafar Iqbal has so far shown up as the most viable candidate for the slot,” said the official.

The G-B government will step down on December 10 after completing its five-year term. An interim set-up will be announced by the federal government to hold elections in 2015.

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