Qureshi dropped as Pakistan foreign minister (Second Lead)

Friday, February 11, 2011

ISLAMABAD - A day after India and Pakistan decided to resume their stalled dialogue, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was dropped from the new, pruned 22-member cabinet sworn in Friday by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Qureshi was among the ministers who were supposed to take oath but he missed out at the last minute following differences over a change of his portfolio, media reports said.

“Qureshi was being offered the ministry of water and power but he refused, considering it a demotion,” Geo TV said, adding a meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani before the oath taking remained inconclusive.

Qureshi had been at the forefront of Pakistan’s foreign policy initiatives in the last three years at crucial junctures.

He was also set to spearhead the long-awaited resumption of bilateral talks with India by visiting New Delhi in July.

Qureshi was to travel to Washington this month to meet his US counterpart Hillary Clinton as part of an ongoing strategic dialogue between both countries.

Others who missed a berth in the cabinet included former information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, replaced by Firdous Ashiq Awan, as well as Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, whose water and power ministry went to Khurshid Shah.

Four new faces — Shaukatullah, Khuda Bakhsh Rajar, Changez Jamali and Umer Gorgej — were included in the cabinet.

In the next phase, 17-18 more ministers were likely to take oath as the overall ministry size was likely to be cut to around 40 from the previous 80.

Qureshi’s exit has also come at a time when Pakistan-US relations have touched a new low as Islamabad refused to free American diplomat Raymond Davis after he shot dead two Pakistani men on a Lahore street. On Friday Davis was charged with murder.

The Pakistani cabinet resigned Wednesday to make way for a new smaller-sized one.

“The decision of inducting a new cabinet was taken in view of the grave economic difficulties the country is facing,” the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

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