Posts Tagged ‘ Shahbaz Sharif ’

Political Instability Rises as Pakistani Court Ousts Premier

As Reported by Delcan Welsh for The New York Times

The Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, drastically escalating a confrontation between the government and the judiciary and plunging the political system into turmoil.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry declared that Mr. Gilani’s office had been effectively vacant since April 26 when the court convicted him on contempt charges because he refused to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, his superior.

Although the decision is unlikely to topple the government, many viewed it as the product of a grudge-driven tussle between Mr. Zardari and Justice Chaudhry, with the prime minister caught in the middle.

“The court has been gunning for the prime minister for a long time,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran political analyst. “Clearly there is a lot of politics in this.”

The order left Pakistan in a state of constitutional uncertainty, with the cabinet effectively dismissed. The court instructed Mr. Zardari to “ensure continuation of the democratic process” — words widely interpreted as an order to arrange the election of a new prime minister.

Legal experts said Mr. Gilani could not appeal the decision but that he may continue in an interim role until a successor is chosen. It was unclear what impact the decision would have on troubled negotiations with the United States to reopen NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

As word of the ruling spread, Pakistanis held their breath for reaction from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, whose top leaders held an emergency session at Mr. Zardari’s house. Television stations reported that the party had agreed in principle to accept the court’s ruling, but a final decision was not expected until later Tuesday.

Shahbaz Sharif, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N Party, which instigated the court action, hailed the decision. “It upholds the supremacy of the law and the Constitution,” Mr. Sharif said.

But it calls into question the validity of all executive decisions made since April 26, including the passing of the federal budget. One commentator said it “opened a massive legal can of worms.”

Speculation swirled about the identity of a replacement prime minister; among the names circulating were those of the foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and various stalwarts from the party’s electoral heartland in Sindh Province and southern Punjab.

Any candidate, however, will need the approval of the P.P.P.’s coalition partners — smaller, ethnically centered parties based in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, who are likely to seek fresh concessions from Mr. Zardari in exchange for their votes in Parliament.

The court decision advanced the likelihood that general elections, scheduled to take place by next spring, could be brought forward.

Equally, however, Mr. Zardari may wish to first resolve some of the governance failures that have marred his government’s reputation, notably widespread power outages and system failures that have continued for years. The court decision coincided with street agitation in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, where rioters burned buildings and clashed with police in several cities on Monday and Tuesday to protest power outages.

“Law has become subservient to politics, but this government had it coming. It has been singularly inept,” said Mr. Sethi, the analyst. “They had six months to anticipate the power crisis, and now it is upon them.”

In dismissing Mr. Gilani, the court chose the strongest option. It could have referred Mr. Gilani’s case to the Election Commission of Pakistan, which could have taken up to three months to adjudicate the case.

It comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the court itself. Last week, a billionaire businessman made explosive accusations in court and in the media that he had given $3.7 million in kickbacks to Justice Chaudhry’s son in order to swing several cases his way. The furor over those accusations, centered on the judge’s son, Arsalan Iftikhar, is now likely to fade as the country grapples with its latest political crisis.

Mr. Gilani’s dismissal stems from longstanding demands by the court that Mr. Gilani write a letter to the authorities in Switzerland to seek to reopen a dormant corruption investigation into Mr. Zardari’s finances that started in the 1990s.

Mr. Gilani refused, arguing that he was unable to do so because the president enjoyed immunity from prosecution. And the prime minister signaled long ago that he was ready to be dismissed or face prison in the case.

After Mr. Gilani was convicted on contempt charges on April 26, the speaker of Parliament examined calls for his dismissal from public office. The court intervened after the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, ruled that Mr. Gilani should not be dismissed.

“What will happen to independence of judiciary if speaker or Parliament tries to scrutinize judicial rulings?” Justice Chaudhry said on Tuesday. “No one can undo a court verdict except a court of appeals.”


Of Babra and other Sharifs

By Asif Noorani for Dawn

Way back in 1915, when M F Hussain (Maqbool Fida Hussain) was born his mother named him Maqbool (which means popular). She had no idea that her son, born in a modest household, would become the most well known South Asian painter of the late 20th and early 21st century.

But not all names bring good luck to those who have to live with them. I had a clerk working for me, whose name was Raees (rich) but the man led a difficult life in the monetary sense. So was a man called Akhtar Nawab. He had neither the finances nor the mindset of a nawab. Haseena is a common name among the fair sex, but most girls with that name are anything but. Haseena Moin was charming in her salad years and is still quite pleasant to look at.

What is true of names is also true of surnames. The one Sharif (noble) who really deserved the surname was Babra Sharif. Even when she was at the peak of her career, the model turned actress (the unisex term actor was not used in her heyday for a female of the species) was on the dot for her shooting. She never threw tantrums like some popular film stars do. She never spoke ill of anybody including those who, out of sheer jealousy, lost no opportunity to make snide remarks about her. When the time came for her to call it a day, she retired gracefully, unlike our politicians in power who are forced to leave disgracefully from their offices.

But not all Sharifs are noble like her. In fact I have yet to come across anyone with that name or surname who could live up to it. Babara used no unkind words for her rivals, but this person (shh! no names please, make your own guess) left no opportunity to pass disparaging remarks about a lady with whom he once played a game of musical chairs. One afternoon he came to the Karachi Press Club, where he went on and on, speaking ungallantly against the first and so far the only woman prime minister in the country. The speech over, a callow journalist not known to be a good judge of human beings, invited the guest to visit the book fair in the club’s backyard. “I am sorry I have an important meeting to attend,” he said and took off in one of the four limos that were parked outside the club.

The same journalist, out of sheer curiosity, followed the fleet of cars on his humble motorbike and you know where did our favourite Sharif go to? “It’s elementary, my dear Watson,” Sherlock Holmes would have said. Our friend was seen downing a large glass at the Punjab Lassi House at Burnes Road. In those days mobile phones, with cameras, were not available otherwise the young journo would have had a prize photograph.

While on Sharifs, I must refer to the news item that appeared in the June 17 issue of a respected English daily. It had a screaming headline: “Shahbaz richest member of Punjab assembly”. In the introductory paragraph, the report said that the Punjab chief minister has assets of Rs 489.64 million in the country and abroad. The details are mind-boggling. But the question remains, is it merely a tip of the iceberg? Those who follow him, in the list of declarations made in 2010, also fall into the category of filthy rich. These were the figures submitted to the Election Commission by the members of the Punjab Assembly. What would have been no less relevant was the figure of the taxes that they pay. Sadly, those figures which should be abysmally low are not mentioned. Don’t you think such declaration should come from the head of the state and the head of the government also?

Perhaps, mine is a case of jealousy. I still move around in my old and but reliable Suzuki Khyber. I paid more income tax than what the chief executive of the country paid. The tax figures paid by him and some other bigwig were revealed in a report, published in the newspapers according to the NAB, when Gen Pervez Musharraf elbowed him out of his office. I have no bungalow. I live in an apartment. The fault is mine. I was always more interested in books than in lassi. So, why crib?

Asif Noorani, a seasoned journalist, is the writer of three best-selling books including ‘Boom, Boom Shahid Afridi’.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Our Noblest Selves

By Marvi Sirmed for Newsweek Pakistan

Be careful. After the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities, on March 2 and of Salmaan Taseer, governor of the Punjab, two months before that, friends and family put out the same, simple message. Be careful. But with two brave men slain so violently and so publicly, can we afford to be careful?

Everything changed after the governor’s assassination. For Taseer’s killer, there are shrines on Facebook and rose petals. For those of us who, accurately, refer to Taseer as a martyr, there is concern from well-wishers—and death threats from others. Lawyers lined up in the hundreds to defend and garland Taseer’s self-confessed killer, while cleric after another refused to lead his funeral services. The right’s pundits called Qadri a ghazi or holy warrior, while state-owned Pakistan Television dropped shaheed or martyr for Taseer within hours of his death. Qadri supporters brandished their bloody hands at rallies that pulled in tens of thousands, while those who mourn Taseer and what he represented struggled to manage mere hundreds at vigils. The polarization and plight of Pakistan have never before been so painfully obvious.

Like Taseer, Bhatti, too, gave his life up for a cause that must be owned by those who run our country. But people everywhere are being careful. And this just won’t do.

Bhatti was one of those rare public figures who never sought the spotlight, who spoke softly, who had no skeletons in his closet. Bhatti could have played it safe. He began receiving death threats after the Gojra massacre. These picked up after he championed the cause of Aasia Noreen, a Christian mother convicted under the blasphemy laws, which the Pakistan Peoples Party had committed to review in order to prevent their misuse. After Taseer’s death, Bhatti could have played it safe and gone quiet. He did not. He was not “careful.” He was laid to rest in Faisalabad on March 4 with thousands turning out to honor him.

What can we do? We need to be honest with ourselves. Bhatti was killed by a group that calls itself the Punjabi Taliban. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has taken exception to interior minister Rehman Malik highlighting this fact. Terrorists are a national problem, they are not Punjabis or Sindhis, says Sharif, who is also the home minister of his province. What more has to happen before the chief minister, a compassionate man by most accounts, finally acknowledges that we have a problem in the Punjab?

Second, we need to stop passing the buck and offering contrition practiced for television. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly offered his resignation to the cabinet the day Bhatti was assassinated. There have been two shocking high-profile murders in Islamabad in as many months and not a single soul has been sacked. There’s no shortage of candidates who deserve the ax. Let’s start with the state-employed clerics who refused to perform Taseer’s last rites.

Third, name and shame the members of Parliament who refused to raise their hands in prayer for Taseer and Bhatti. There was a prayer for Taseer in the National Assembly, but, infamously, not in the Senate. Bhatti got two minutes of silence in the National Assembly on March 3 and a walkout from all parties—including, oddly, the ruling party—against the government’s failure to protect Bhatti, but no prayers. What have we come to when we cannot bring ourselves to pray for the departed and their devastated families? This is not coldhearted or remotely Islamic, but pure evil.

Fourth, we need to enforce a strict ban on hate speech. Incitement to murder, character assassination and hate words cannot be provided mainstream platforms—whether print or electronic—under the pretense of free speech. Some channels promoted the false impression that Taseer had blasphemed, and they publicized fatwas against him. They also hyped up pro-Qadri rallies. It never came to light that these processions, while big, were limited to three cities. Responsibility will not suddenly dawn on our lawless media. To keep television honest and to counter the state’s halfhearted ban on militant groups, corporations need to step up and withhold ad spend from channels providing support to the jihadists. Consumers can then hold these corporations accountable by buying or boycotting their products.

The brave among us refuse to be careful when they see the rapid undoing of their motherland, and whose faith in man’s goodness speaks to our noblest selves. We are not a nation of murderers and monsters, but we sure are close.

Sirmed is a rights activist in Islamabad.


Government in Pakistan Calls Meeting on Terrorism

By Jane Perlez for The New York Times

In an unusual sign of accord between the two major political parties, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced over the weekend that the government and the opposition would hold a national conference on ways to combat terrorism.

The announcement came days after 42 people were killed and hundreds were wounded when two suicide bombers struck the famed Sufi shrine Data Darbar on Thursday night in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province.

The attack incited street protests in Lahore on Saturday, and it provoked complaints that law enforcement was not doing enough to protect holy sites from sectarian militant groups.

Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-N,  deplored the attack at a news conference on Saturday. It is time, he said, for the government to hold a national conference on terrorism and open talks with the Pakistani Taliban, “who are ready to talk and ready to listen.”

Mr. Sharif, whose brother Shahbaz Sharif  is the chief minister of Punjab, did not specify which Taliban figures such talks should include.

Prime Minister Gilani agreed late Saturday to the proposal for a national conference, though it appeared unlikely that it would involve representatives of any militant groups. The conference will discuss how to better fight back against the militants, and show concern for the problem, politicians said.

The creation of such a conference was interpreted as an encouraging step by politicians who have called for greater leadership by the civilian government against terrorism. Until now the army has mostly led the effort against the Pakistani Taliban, fighting the militants in the tribal areas adjacent to Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban denied responsibility for the Data Darbar attack. The shrine, one of the most popular in Lahore, is considered un-Islamic by followers of the Wahhabi and Salafi schools of Islamic thought that Taliban fighters generally adhere to.

Some religious scholars were so outraged by the attack on the shrine that they called for the resignations of Chief Minister Sharif and the Punjab law minister, Rana Sanaullah.

Earlier this year, Chief Minister Sharif was criticized by the national government, led by the more secular Pakistan Peoples Party, when he appealed to the Taliban to stop attacking Punjab on the grounds that the Muslim League and the Taliban had a common enemy in the United States. Since then, he has been accused of not doing enough to crack down on militant groups that have coalesced under the umbrella of the Punjabi Taliban.

The federal Interior Ministry said after the assault on the shrine that it had warned Punjab authorities of a possible terrorist attack in Lahore last week.

A rare joint statement by the prime minister and Nawaz Sharif on Sunday said now was “not the time for blame games.”

A similar conference on terrorism by the two main political parties was held in Islamabad two years ago, but those talks petered out and responsibility for tackling terrorism was handed to the army.

An effective national strategy by the civilian government would need stronger and more cohesive leadership and more money for the poorly financed police forces in the major cities, according to law enforcement officials.

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