Archive for January 7th, 2011

Key Party Rejoins Pakistan’s Coalition

By J David Goodman for The New York Times

A day after Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani announced a rollback of fuel price increases that were deeply unpopular in Pakistan, a major political party said on Friday that it would rejoin the ruling coalition, defusing a tense political standoff and saving Mr. Gilani’s government from potential collapse, news reports said.

The party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, broke with the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party over the weekend in part to protest the price increases and other reforms proposed by the government, causing a political crisis for the prime minister and President Asif Ali Zardari. Opposition parties echoed the call to reverse the increases as well as recent cuts in spending and threatened the government with a three-day deadline before a no-confidence vote.

Political tension deepened on Tuesday with the assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous region and an ally of Mr. Zardari, because of his support for changes to the country’s blasphemy law.

Raza Haroon, a senior leader in the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, said on Friday that his party had decided to rejoin the ruling coalition for the sake of democracy and the country, The Associated Press reported.

While the government appears to have survived for the moment, it does so at the expense of political and economic reforms encouraged by the United States.

In a meeting with Muttahida Qaumi Movement party officials on Friday, Mr. Gilani said that he would also put off proposed changes promoted by the State Department and the International Monetary Fund to increase tax collection, Reuters reported.

Pakistan, an important American ally, still faces a widening rift between secular and religious forces within the government, even as its army battles Taliban insurgents around the country’s mountainous northwestern border with Afghanistan.

The killing of Mr. Taseer, by a religiously motivated member of his own security staff, raised concerns for the United States and exposed the deep divisions in Pakistan. His killer, who proudly confessed the crime to the police, has been celebrated by many and was greeted by affectionate crowds throwing rose petals both times he appeared in court this week.

But Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier this week that Pakistan’s security relations with the United States would survive the crisis.

India Urges Pakistan to Resume Onion Exports

As Reported by The BBC

India is trying to persuade Pakistan to resume exporting onions overland to curb soaring prices. The matter has been taken up with the government of Pakistan, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said.

Pakistan banned overland exports of onions to India on Tuesday with traders saying they feared shortages at home. Last month, India abolished import taxes on onions after prices nearly tripled in a month.

“We have initiated talks and before not too long, we are hopeful we will find a solution to this, easing pressure within our country for onions,” Mr Krishna told a press conference in Delhi.

Pakistan banned exports to India through the land route via the Attari-Wagah border crossing, although the sea route is still open. Much of the trade, however, is by road and rail which are cheaper and quicker.

India’s food inflation has risen for the fifth straight week this week to 18.32% – the highest in more than a year.

The price of onions, a key food staple for Indian families used in almost all dishes, has risen dramatically over the past month.

A kilogram which usually costs 20 rupees went up to 85 rupees ($1.87; £1.20) last month. At present, it is 65 to 70 rupees a kilo.

The rise has been blamed on unusually heavy rains in the bulk-producing western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat and in southern states, as well as on hoarders and speculators.

Discontent over food inflation has been a major headache for the government.

High prices of essential commodities such as onions have previously sparked unrest and helped bring down the national government in 2004.

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