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Zardari to name key aide as governor

By Reuters

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 centre. 

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-confontational. But  he is an ardent supporter of the PPP. 

Analysts say Khosa, a lawyer by profession, will try to  avoid antagonising the Sharif brothers and their Pakistan  Muslim League-Nawaz faction (PML-N) to tamp down disputes that  have paralysed 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 Jan. 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 centre.