ISLAMABAD Pakistan's president is set to appoint close aide Latif Khosa to succeed the murdered governor of the key Punjab province, officials said, another step in resolving a week-long political crisis.
President Asif Ali Zardari is expected to name Khosa, a former attorney general, on Saturday from Karachi.
"Mr. Khosa is most likely to be appointed as Punjab governor," a senior government official said. Other top officials confirmed the appointment was expected.
Khosa told Reuters on Saturday that Zardari had called him for a meeting in Karachi. "I will accept whatever the decision of my leadership," he said.
If appointed as expected, Khosa will succeed Salman Taseer, the outspoken governor of the central province of Punjab, who was gunned down by one of his bodyguards in Islamabad on Tuesday for supporting changes in a controversial blasphemy law.
Taseer's murder came as Zardari's coalition was struggling to avoid collapse following the defection of one of its main allies to the opposition.
Political stability in Pakistan is seen by the United States as key to maintaining the war effort in Afghanistan and curbing militant activities in Pakistan's ungoverned border regions.
The choice of who will replace Taseer is crucial for Zardari. Punjab is the most populated province in Pakistan and its political nerve center.
Politics in Punjab, which has 183 members in the 342-seat National Assembly, has traditionally dominated Pakistani politics.
Choosing Khosa could mean Zardari is seeking to cool temperatures with Nawaz Sharif, the main opposition leader and one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan whose party dominates the provincial coalition. The central government is led by Zardari's Pakistan People's Party.
Taseer was fiery and often clashed publicly with Sharif and his brother, Punjab Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif. Khosa, on the other hand, is soft-spoken and non-confrontational. But he is an ardent supporter of the PPP.
Analysts say Khosa, a lawyer by profession, will try to avoid antagonizing the Sharif brothers and their Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz faction (PML-N) to tamp down disputes that have paralyzed the federal government.
Khosa's likely appointment comes just two days before an ultimatum given by Sharif to Zardari's government on Tuesday to accept a list of his demands or face expulsion of PPP members from the Pubjab provincial government.
Zardari's beleaguered government received a major reprieve on Friday when the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the second biggest coalition partner, which had bolted to the opposition on January 2, rejoined the government.
Though the political crisis triggered by the MQM's defection has been defused to a large extent, political stability in Punjab is vital to ensure the smooth running of Zardari's government in the center.
(Editing by Chris Allbritton and Andrew Marshall)