Posts Tagged ‘ Yousaf Raza Gilani ’

Pakistani President Chooses Party Stalwart as New Premier

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

President Asif Ali Zardari has chosen a party stalwart, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, to replace the ousted prime minister, Pakistani news media reported late Wednesday.

Mr. Shahabuddin, who was serving as textiles minister when the Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and broke up the cabinet on Tuesday, will file his nomination papers before the election commission on Thursday. Khurshid Shah, a senior leader of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, said a special session of the National Assembly would be held Friday for a confirmation vote.

The nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin came after hours of negotiations between party officials and the other members of its governing coalition. Officials said he was Mr. Zardari’s first choice, but he faced mild resistance during a meeting at the president’s house on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Shahabuddin belongs to an influential family from the southern part of Punjab Province, which has been a stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples Party. He has held several positions, including deputy finance minister in the early 1990s. He was considered close to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The country’s economy, militants in the tribal badlands and troubled relations with the United States over reopening NATO supply lines would be among the issues facing him if he was confirmed. But he may face another challenge by the Supreme Court, which has been pushing the ruling government to reopen a Swiss corruption investigation against Mr. Zardari. Mr. Gilani’s refusal to do so led to contempt charges and his dismissal.

Most analysts expect Mr. Shahabuddin would fight such pressure, as Mr. Gilani did.

Raza Rumi, the policy director of the Jinnah Institute, a research group in Islamabad, said that the nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin indicated continuation of the governing party’s policies. “Mr. Shahabuddin is an experienced parliamentarian, but he will face a tough choice to balance loyalty to the president and deal with an assertive court and a restive opposition,” he said.


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.”

What Happened on the Border?

As Reported by The New York Times

It’s not clear what led to NATO strikes on two Pakistani border posts this weekend, but there can be no dispute that the loss of lives is tragic. At least 24 Pakistani troops were killed. We regret those deaths, as we do those of all American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.

Washington and Islamabad need to work together, urgently, to ensure that this incident does not destroy their deeply troubled relationship. The United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation — as grudging as it is — to pursue the fight against the Taliban. And without American support, Pakistan’s fragile government will be even more vulnerable to extremist attacks.

So far, Pakistan’s leaders seem most interested in fanning popular anger. The Obama administration and NATO have wasted precious time, allowing the crisis to escalate.

On Saturday, after the first reports, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a statement offering their “deepest condolences for the loss of life.” We’re not sure why President Obama waited until Monday to add his voice.

We are also puzzled, and concerned, by the delay in opening a full and transparent inquiry. On Saturday, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, said he would “thoroughly” investigate the incident. But that was never going to be enough.

It took until Monday for Gen. James Mattis, leader of the Pentagon’s Central Command, to announce a more formal investigation and to name Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark to lead it. The inquiry will include representatives of NATO and General Allen’s team. Significantly, Central Command said Pakistan and Afghanistan would be invited to participate. Islamabad and Kabul should both agree. The panel needs to move ahead quickly and credibly, with full disclosure no matter what it finds.

Pakistan’s leaders, as ever, are playing a very dangerous game. On Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani vowed in an interview on CNN, that “business as usual will not be there.” His government has already shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, ordered a base used for drone strikes evacuated and threatened to boycott a conference on Afghanistan’s security and development. Some news reports are also quoting ordinary Pakistanis demanding that their government retaliate militarily against American forces across the border.

Before things get out of control, Pakistan’s leaders need to lower their rhetoric and make clear that it is in their country’s interest to work with the Americans to find out what happened and ensure it will not happen again.

There are many questions that need to be answered. Who first fired on the American-Afghan force? Pakistan’s army is far too cozy with the Taliban. Were fighters sheltering near the Pakistani outposts? What about Pakistan’s claim that the NATO strikes continued for two hours even after Pakistan alerted allied officials? What needs to be done differently going forward?

The two sides need answers if there is any hope of finding a way back from the brink.


Pakistan’s Power Woes

By Huma Imtiaz for Foreign Policy

Pakistan’s power crisis has become a catastrophe. Power cuts of up to 14 hours a day have become the norm in Pakistan. In Karachi, four patients admitted in the largest public hospital died when the hospital’s backup generator failed after prolonged cuts. Riots have engulfed Punjab, and other major cities across the country, as the government wrings its hands and tries to get the situation under control. Allegations have flown between the leaders of the two major political parties — the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The PML (N) — has accused the PPP of being responsible for the crisis. In turn, the PPP has accused the PML-N of instigating the violence.

Riots over power cuts in the country, known as “load shedding,” have now become a matter of routine. In neighborhoods and cities across Pakistan, hundreds have taken to the streets to vent their anger at the frequent load shedding. This time around though, the PML-N, perhaps to apply more pressure as a political tactic against its rival PPP, has stepped in, and is supporting the protestors.

But as the flurry of allegations continues, the problem at hand grows more serious. Dubbed the circular debt issue, power companies have racked up billions in unpaid dues to petroleum companies, which supply them oil to run their powerhouses. On Sunday, Pakistan State Oil (PSO), tired of waiting for the dues long promised to them, decided to stop the petroleum supply to the power companies, leading to an increase in the already inhumane cuts.

While the Government of Pakistan (GoP) has now released some funds to appease PSO, this is not a long-term solution. The Federal Minister for Water and Power Naveed Qamar responded to the most recent protests by saying that there were no quick fixes, and then turned around and announced that the situation would improve in 24-36 hours. Last week in Washington DC, the Finance Minister of Pakistan Hafeez Sheikh solemnly announced that the government understood the severity of the circular debt issue, and would resolve it in the weeks to come. But with a growing fiscal deficit, and a refusal of the Asian Development Bank to fund programs in Pakistan after the GoP decided to end their International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan program, how Pakistan plans to resolve the circular debt issue is anyone’s guess.

One solution, according to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, was that the United States “should help Pakistan solve its energy crisis if it wanted better ties.” The United States has previously said that it is investing in dams in Pakistan to help add to the power grid, and has helped in the reconstruction of existing dams in the country.

However, Pakistan needs to stop looking towards the West for a solution (or a scapegoat), and perhaps redirect its attention to how to fix its problems internally first — perhaps by collecting payment of unpaid bills, or cracking down against those stealing electricity. First, though, it has to deal with the political ramifications of these protests. The PML-N has played its cards right; by blaming the political center of which it is no longer part, it has easily scored political points while the PPP becomes the fall guy — and to an extent, perhaps deservedly so. Pakistan’s government, in turn, can only do so much. Strapped for cash, it barely has the funds to invest in power generation, and in cases where it has, such investments have barely led to a meaningful increase in the electricity grid.

Additionally, in the face of all of these problems, if Pakistan raises power tariffs on those that have been suffering for the last many years, the law and order situation could become even more perilous.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani population continue to take to the streets, hoping that it might eventually lead to the light bulbs burning bright again.

Huma Imtiaz works as a correspondent for Express News and is based in Washington, DC.


Pakistan Expresses “Total Solidarity and Support” to Quake, Tsunami-hit Japan

As Reported by Asian News International

Pakistan has expressed its “total solidarity and support” to the government and people of Japan in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the country on Friday.

“We are deeply shocked over the terrible news of the strong earthquake and tsunami that has hit Japan. At this time of great trial, I wish you to know that the Government and people of Pakistan stand with you and the Japanese people in total solidarity and support,” President Asif Ali Zardari said in his condolence message to Emperor Akihito of Japan.

“Our profound sympathy and condolences to all those who lost their loved ones. Pakistan stands ready to provide any assistance to help our Japanese friends overcome the effects of this enormous natural calamity,” he added.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also expressed solidarity with the Japanese government and its people.

In a message to his Japanese counterpart Naoto Kan, Gilani said: “We stand ready to help, in any manner, to alleviate the suffering and assist our Japanese friends to overcome effects of this terrible natural calamity.”


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.


Police: Plot to Kill Pakistan PM Uncovered

By Frederik Pleitgen for CNN

Several people have been seized in a plot to kill Pakistan’s prime minister, and the suspects claim they were getting orders from a militant in the country’s volatile tribal region, police said.

Police official Babar Bakhat Qureshi told CNN that officers arrested several suspects who were plotting to attack the compound of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Shabir Anwar, Gilani’s press secretary, had no comment on the alleged plot because it is a security matter.

The plot to strike the compound, located in the Punjab provincial city of Multan, was in its “final planning stages,” Qureshi said. The location is about 395 kilometers, or 245 miles, southeast of the nation’s capital, Islamabad.

The suspects were planning to use a car bomb for the attack, and that they had acquired large amounts of fertilizer to manufacture an improvised explosive device, since confiscated by police, he said.

A vehicle for the attack had not been acquired yet.

The police confiscated one kilogram of gold and and two and a half kilograms of silver, which the men were going to sell to fund the plot, the official said.

Qureshi said the suspects have confessed that they were getting their orders and instructions from Kari Imram, a leader of a Taliban offshoot group from Miran Shah in North Waziristan. Drone strikes said to be conducted by the United States have targeted militants in North Waziristan, one of seven of the county’s tribal districts.

The arrests were made after police stopped three suspects traveling on two motorcycles near Multan in the town of Ahmed Pur Sharkia on a check during a police patrol. Questioning led police to other suspects.

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