Mar 9, 2009

Zardari’s gamble in critical phase

President Asif Ali Zardari seemed to be coming under renewed pressure from political friends and foes alike against the backdrop of fast-paced political developments on Monday.
Two developments indicated that the president’s political gamble of recent weeks may well backfire rather than pay dividends as his decision to nominate Law Minister Farooq Naek as the Pakistan People’s Party candidate to run for the Senate chairman to replace the retiring Mohammedian Soomro irked a key party leader.
Raza Rabbani, a party loyalist and one of the most trusted lieutenants of the slain leader Benazir Bhutto, is understood to have resigned both as the leader of the upper house and as the minister of inter-provincial coordination to protest against the decision to nominate Mr Naek.
Farooq Naek was Mr Zardari’s counsel and defended him over the course of nearly a decade in multiple cases, including those involving corruption charges, and thus came close to the president.
It is said he is the key adviser to President Zardari in all matters concerning the judiciary now.
It was not just Mr Rabbani’s unhappiness that was threatening to become a major headache for the president as senators belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which the PPP has been wooing in order to have some hope of forming a government in Punjab, unanimously said they wanted their leader Chaudhry Shujaat Husain to run for the Senate chairmanship.
It wasn’t clear if they were seeking the governing party’s support for their leader as a quid pro quo for supporting the formation of a PPP-led government in that ultimate prize, the province of Punjab — where the PML-N administration was dislodged through some controversial means — or were just testing the political waters.
But political circles were quick to point out that Shujaat Husain still enjoyed good relations with the military establishment and that his sudden candidature to a position that is second in line to the most powerful office in the country may not be without meaning and could hint at the army’s growing unease at the political instability.
The PML-Q’s late announcement came after heated exchanges between the PPP and the PML-N that saw the interior adviser and top presidential aide Rehman Malik virtually calling the Sharif brothers’ politics seditious. Ousted Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif accused Mr Malik of using state funds to try and ‘steal the popular mandate in Punjab’.
Given the daunting challenges facing the country, including rampant militancy and the downturn in the economy, the current round of political wrestling that is now threatening to spill on to the streets, poses a serious threat to peace in the country.
With the lawyers’ movement gaining the support of diverse yet powerful political parties and elements in the country and a planned march on to the capital within a week to seek a return to office of deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and a government equally determined to stop this march, the fate of the final showdown was proving very difficult to call.

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