Gilani tries to step out of Zardari’s shadow

July 30th, 2008 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf

Islamabad, July 30 (IANS) Fresh from his maiden meeting with US President George W. Bush, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is making a concerted effort to step out of the shadow of his mentor Asif Ali Zardari, co-chair of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that leads the country’s shaky coalition. “Passionate, confident and displaying a sense of calm satisfaction, disconcerting for someone whose government is wracked by so many crises, Gilani is at pains to paint himself as his own man and no one’s puppet,” The News said Wednesday.

Headlined “Cool and calm Gilani says he is his own man”, the article was based on correspondent Talat Aslam’s assessment after a conversation with the prime minister on board his special aircraft Sunday on the flight to Washington.

“Gilani showed no signs of panic over the difficulties his government finds itself in,” The News said.

Quoting profusely from personalities as diverse as Winston Churchill, Mao Zedong and Mirza Ghalib, Gilani maintained that his calm exterior concealed an iron will and determination.

“As a great admirer of Churchill, I feel that you should be firm in your dealings with people but never rough,” he said, adding that this strength should be used selectively to maintain its efficacy.

A long-standing member of the Pakistan’s National Assembly, where he has served as speaker too, Gilani found himself catapulted to fame when Zardari chose him over PPP vice president Amin Fahim to be the prime minister after the February general elections.

It was widely believed at that time that Zardari did so as he was wary that Fahim might refuse to vacate the post in case he himself decided to become the prime minister after contesting a parliamentary by-election - or even become the president after incumbent Pervez Musharraf was persuaded to step down or was impeached by parliament.

Fahim has since distanced himself from the PPP.

That Gilani has his hands tied can be gauged from four factors: the shaky nature of the ruling coalition, his failure to restore the judges Musharraf sacked after imposing an emergency last November, his flip-flop on bringing the intelligence agencies under civilian control, and his inability to contain terrorism along the border with Afghanistan that has resulted in repeated strikes into Pakistan by NATO forces.

The coalition might command 231 seats in the 342 member National Assembly but relations between its partners are, at best, tenuous.

This is largely because the second largest party in the grouping, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is sulking over Zardari reneging on his promise to restore the sacked judges.

This prompted the PML-N to pull its ministers out of Gilani’s government, even as it remains in the coalition.

Parliament then took the back route on the issue by raising the Supreme Court strength from 16 to 29 to retain the new bench Musharraf had installed under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) that was promulgated along with the emergency.

The government has thus far refrained from issuing an executive order to restore the sacked judges. Analysts here say this is because Zardari fears that former chief justice Ifthikar Mohammad Chaudhary, who will return as an ordinary judge, could reopen the corruption cases against him.

These cases were dropped under a US-brokered deal between Musharraf and Zardari’s late wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto that saw her returning to Pakistan last October to participate in the general elections originally scheduled for January.

Bhutto’s killing Dec 27 in a gun-and-bomb attack while leaving a rally in the adjacent garrison town of Rawalpindi pushed the elections back by a month.

Gilani’s government has also not been able to conclude peace deals with a number of tribal groups in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that Musharraf had initiated last year.

The Pakistani Army has ceased its operations in these areas due to the negotiations and this has led to a resurgence of Taliban and Al Qaeda activities along Pakistan’s western border.

On top of all this, the government found itself with egg on its face when it was forced to rescind, within 10 hours, its orders bringing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) under the interior ministry.

This happened because “the government acted on its own and the concerned authorities were not taken into confidence”, a senior government official said, adding that Musharraf “had to jump in, forcing the government to withdraw the notification”.

In spite of all this, Gilani was upbeat.

“Defending his quiet style, he predicted that those who shout the loudest and most aggressively will not be around when and if the chips are down,” The News said.

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