It’s Gilani vs Zardari in Pakistan


Islamabad : With the Supreme Court judges sacked in 2007 reinstated, Shahbaz Sharif back as Punjab chief minister and a key opposition party being invited to rejoin the government, a face-off is brewing between Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari.

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In all this, Gilani has come out smelling like roses while Zardari finds his already frayed reputation in further tatters.

The final nail in the coffin, as it were, was Gilani’s formal invitation Wednesday to the Pakistan Muslim Leageue-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif – Shahbaz Sharif’s elder brother – to return to the government.

As an editorial noted Thursday, with Gilani “now putting on record his divergence with the president, it is to be seen how this relationship is managed over the weeks ahead”.

According to The News, “it is becoming obvious” that Gilani “is now emerging as the main decision-maker. He quite obviously has the backing of others who wield a great deal of power and have lost patience with the presidency”.

“His vision for the future seems to be a constructive one, with plenty of appeal,” the editorial, headlined “The PM’s promise”, maintained.

Gilani had been steadfastly pushing for implementing the Charter of Democracy governance agenda his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the PML-N had agreed to in October 2007 and on the basis of which they had formed a coalition after their one-two finish at the February 2008 general elections.

The agenda included the restoration of the Supreme Court and high court judges then president Pervez Musharraf had sacked after imposing an emergency Nov 3, 2007.

This apart, the charter also promised the repeal of the 17th constitutional amendment that Musharraf had pushed through in 2003 transferring crucial powers to the presidency from the prime minister’s office.

Zardari, who is the PPP co-chair, had been dragging his feet on both issues, prompting the PML-N to walk out of the coalition.

Then, on Feb 25, the Supreme Court cited corruption charges to bar the Sharif brothers from contesting elections or holding public office, a move that Nawaz Sharif accused Zardari of having a hand in.

Shahbaz Sharif’s Punjab government fell immediately after the verdict and governor’s rule was imposed in the province.

Nawaz Sharif immediately jumped onto the bandwagon of a lawyers’ stir to demand the restoration of the sacked judges to also protest the Supreme Court verdict.

He led a highly-emotive lawyers’ “long march” to Islamabad on the issue and Zardari finally capitulated March 16 – after a meeting with Gilani and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani.

On March 21, announced during his address to a joint session of parliament that the process had been set in motion for repealing the 17 amendment. The judges were restored the next day and on Monday, the Supreme Court stayed its verdict on the Sharif brothers, enabling Shahbaz Sharif to get his job back.

In all this, The News said, it was “unfortunate” that it had taken Gilani “over a year to exert himself and make it clear he differs with the president, primarily on the question of how Punjab is to be run”.

“What we had suspected for many months has now in fact been confirmed – the country, through this time, had been running on a kind of auto-pilot with no one really in charge.

“It is only now that (Gilani) seems ready to play his constitutional role, take firm hold of matters and decide what kind of political environment he wishes to put in place,” the editorial contended.