Cracks widen in Pakistan’s ruling coalition, key ally quits

By Awais Saleem, IANS
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

ISLAMABAD - The cracks within the ruling coalition in Pakistan widened Tuesday after a key ally made it clear that it had “no intention of returning to the (coalition) fold”.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani last week sacked minister for science and technology Azam Swati, who was a cabinet member from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F). This enraged JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman. He not only decided to withdraw his party’s support to the government, but also submitted resignations of four other ministers of the party.

Although Fazl-ur-Rehman has decided against resigning from the chairmanship of the Kashmir Committee and Council of Islamic Ideology, which is giving the central government hopes of his return, he has made it clear that he has no intention of returning to the (coalition) fold.

The party has also sought from the speaker allotment of opposition benches for its members in parliament.

Fazl-ur-Rehman told the media Tuesday that the speculations of our return to the coalition are not right.

I am not a hyperactive persona and happen to give margins to the allies. However, this was a limit because our minister was sacked without any logical grounds and also without taking us into confidence,” he said.

Swati was sacked after he was embroiled in a war of words with the then federal minister for religious affairs, Hamid Saeed Kazmi, and traded with him charges of corruption. Kazmi had also sent Swati a defamation notice for Rs.10 million while Swati appeared against Kazmi in the Supreme Court to substantiate his charges.

After failing to achieve a truce between Kazmi and Swati, Gilani sacked both ministers.

As the JUI-F is no longer part of the government, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain is trying to woo the Maulana to join hands to cause a political upheaval in southwestern Balochistan province.

The PML-Q had emerged as the single largest party in Balochistan after the 2008 elections, but could not form the government after some of its members defected to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

On the other hand, Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirzas allegations that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is involved in target-killing and extortion in Karachi has forced the coalition partner to give a 10-day deadline to the government to reconsider its aggressive stance. The MQM delegation has called on President Zardari and premier Gilani to register their protest.

The party has hinted that it would not mind ditching the ruling coalition if Zulfiqar Mirza sticks to his guns and party elders do not take punitive action against him.

If Azam Swati was sacked for washing dirty linen in public, why is the same action not being taken against Mirza, who belongs to PPP?” asked Farooq Sattar, a minister from the MQM.

The MQM, keeping its options open in the volatile political environment, has already held meetings with the JUI-F besides other parties in the opposition like the PML-Q, PML-Functional and the right-wing Jamaat Islami (JI). The JI has also indicated it would activate the now defunct Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, an alliance of religio-political parties, against the government.

Now, all eyes are on former premier Nawaz Sharif, chief of opposition PML-N, who holds the numerical strength to derail the government if he joins hands with another powerful group. However, he is playing a waiting game and has said that he “will not be part of any undemocratic move.

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