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High drama in Pakistan on the eve of PM's election

June 22, 2012 19:19 IST

Pakistan's mighty military establishment and a defiant judiciary seems to have joined hands to give a tough time to a fragile Pakistan People's Party government at a critical time -- just before the election of the new prime minister following the disqualification of Yousaf Raza Gilani by the supreme court on contempt charges. Amir Mir reports.

Just when everything appeared to be going well after the government had accepted the court verdict against Gilani and announced Makhdoom Shahabuddin's name to replace him as the prime minister, a Rawalpindi court suddenly issued non-bailable warrant for the arrest of Shahabuddin, and that too at the request of the Anti Narcotics Force for his involvement in the multi-billion-rupee ephedrine scandal.

Interestingly, the ANF is headed by a serving major general of the Pakistan army. Similar warrants were also issued for the arrest of Musa Gilani, son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, although the names of neither Shahabuddin nor Musa were included in the original challan submitted by the ANF.

The ANF actually moved before Special Judge (Narcotics) Shafqatullah an application expressing the possibility of their involvement in the scam on the basis of statements of witnesses recorded by an investigation team over past two months and the judge issued the non-bailable arrest warrants.

The ANF contended that its investigators required Shabuddin and Musa's custody to investigate the sale of 9,000 kg of ephedrine to smugglers by two pharmaceutical companies -- Berlex Lab International and Danas Pharmaceutical (Pvt) Ltd.

Apart from the Makhdoom, the PPP was delivered a second shock within the same week --  it had just lost its prime minister on Tuesday to a court decision.

ANF Director General Major General Malik Zafar Iqbal has already announced after the issuance of arrest warrants for Shahabuddin and Musa in the ephedrine case, efforts were being made to arrest them and requests had been sent to the authorities concerned to put their names on the exit control list.

The ANF chief dispelled a perception that the special judge had issued the warrants because of the prevailing political situation.

"It should not be treated as an issue of timing because the ANF was already investigating the scam and it was to be completed by the end of this month in line with the Supreme Court's order".

On the other hand, Makhdoom Shahbuddin has reacted strongly to the issuance of his arrest warrants by the ANF the day he submitted his nomination papers for the office of the prime minister, maintaining that some powerful elements in the establishment were conspiring against the PPP.    

As Shahbuddin was technically knocked out by the ANF to run for premiership, PPP co-chairman President Zardari gave another surprise to the nation by conveying to the leaders of the coalition parties that Raja Pervez Ashraf would be his party's final candidate for the slot of the prime minister and that he had decided to drop the name of Makhdoom Shahabuddin due to the issuance of non-bailable warrants against him.

But due to Ashraf's previous record as the minister of water and power and his dubious role in the Rental Power Project scam, leaders of major coalition parties, spearheaded by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, advised the PPP chief to review his decision and instead nominate Qamaruz Zaman Kaira for the top slot as the upcoming months were important and the new PM should lead the way to resolve all contentious issues, including load shedding.

However, by Friday, all the coalition partners of the PPP had apparently agreed to back Ashraf for the slot of prime minister, courtesy President Zardari's efforts.

Proving to be a dark horse, Ashraf has 'arrived' after a series of hectic consultations within the PPP as well as with the ruling coalition.  His nomination has been made despite reservations expressed by the MQM, but even that could not convince President Asif Ali Zardari to change his mind.

As per the party position in the National Assembly which will elect the new prime minister, the government enjoys the support of 236 members in a house of 339 while the opposition has 103 members on its side. Therefore, the PPP is in a comfortable position to get its prime minister elected.
Amir Mir in Islamabad