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Yousuf Raza Gillani: Tough man for a tough job
March 25, 2008
Pakistan's new Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani is famous as 'Mr No' in his Pakistan Peoples Party.
It was widely speculated that PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari will ask Gillani to quit after three months after Zardari becomes a member of the national assembly through a by-election.
But Zardari has rejected speculation and said that the Makhdoom from Multan will be the prime minister for five years. He has already briefed his coalition partners about the reasons which forced him to nominate Gillani rather than the Makhdoom from Hala, Amin Fahim.
"Gillani sahib slept in Adiyala jail without a proper bed for three months but he never contacted his powerful friends and influential relatives for help. He remained loyal to the party during his four years in jail. We have a lot of respect for him and he was the best available choice for the post of prime minister," Zardari told The News.
Zardari said that Gillani is honest, loyal, intelligent and sober. He is presentable not only to the people of Pakistan but also to the international community. "The new prime minister spent four years in jail, said no to the many offers of the establishment, faced character assassination attempts, he knows who the enemies of democracy are and he also knows how to strengthen democracy in Pakistan. He does not need any lessons," Zardari further added.
The new prime minister has the distinction of saying a big 'no' to both President Pervez Musharraf [Images] and the late Benazir Bhutto [Images] many times. Gillani has always been loyal to his party but he is not a 'yes man', a quality which impressed Zardari. He nominated Gillani because he is sure he will not take any dictation either from the President or from any powerful diplomat. Only a confident leader like Zardari could risk appointing a defiant person as prime minister -- one who may even say no to him one day.
Many PPP colleagues of Gillani remember the days when some intelligence officials tried to give an impression to Benazir Bhutto that Gillani wanted to become prime minister with the help of Nawaz Sharif.
In 1995, the opposition parties led by Sharif scuffled with the treasury benches during the speech of then President Farooq Leghari in Parliament. Bhutto sent her Attorney General Qazi Jamil to Gillani with a message that as speaker he must register a police case against the opposition MPs for attacking President Leghari.
Gillani politely declined but the attorney general kept insisting. Finally Gillani asked him to leave his office. He conveyed to Bhutto that he would not preside over the National Assembly in protest. A crisis was created which lasted 20 days. In the meantime, the IB reported to Bhutto that Gillani was in contact with the opposition parties and was hatching a conspiracy to become prime minister.
Bhutto sent that report to Gillani. He returned the file with a note to the effect that only time would prove his loyalty with the party. After that, Bhutto accepted Gillani's point of view and the crisis was averted. Later Gillani came to know that Bhutto was trying to force him to become a party against the opposition on the demand of President Leghari.
After a few years Benazir Bhutto was impressed by the loyalty and courage of Gillani when he was arrested before the election of 2002. Tariq Aziz, a close aide of President Musharraf, visited him in the Rawalpindi jail and offered him release in return for changing his loyalty but Gillani refused. After the 2002 elections many government officials visited him in jail and tried their best to break him but he remained defiant to Musharraf and loyal to Benazir Bhutto.
Just a few weeks before the assassination of Bhutto, Gillani was again approached by the establishment to change his loyalties for 'something very big' but he refused.
Zardari preferred Gillani�to Makhdoom Amin Fahim because Fahim was seen as a darling of the Pakistani establishment for many years.
Musharraf offered the prime minister's post to Fahim many times but Benazir Bhutto never allowed him to accept the offer. Zardari became suspicious of Fahim in January 2008 when he was told that he held a quiet meeting with Musharraf without the knowledge of the party leadership. Gillani never accepted such invitations from top government officials.
Soft-spoken Gillani is committed to restoring the 1973 Constitution in its true spirit which means that he will support any move to clip the powers of the Ppresident. Gillani also participated in rallies organised for the independence of the judiciary. He became a target of the Musharraf regime after he supported deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
But Gillani does not want any immediate clash with the President who is still sitting in Army House. Gillani will also not follow Musharraf's war on terror policy blindly. He believes that the army must stop its military operations in the tribal areas and the government must start a genuine peace initiative with the militants. Gillani has said many times recently that "if we can talk to India why not talk to our own people".
Zardari is confident that his 'Mr No' could become a problem for President Musharraf, but not for him.
Gillani told this scribe: "I am committed to implement the Charter of Democracy and there will no compromise on the agenda formulated during the life of my martyred leader Benazir Bhutto."
Hamid Mir is a senior Pakistani journalist