Qureshi dropped as Pakistan’s foreign minister

Friday, February 11, 2011

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI - A day after India and Pakistan announced their decision to resume talks, Shah Mahmood Qureshi was dropped as Pakistan’s foreign minister as President Asif Ali Zardari swore in a new 22-member cabinet in Islamabad in an exercise designed to curb public spending.

Qureshi’s name was in the list of ministers who were supposed to take oath but missed out at the last minute following differences over a change of his portfolio.

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

Qureshi had been at the forefront of Pakistan’s foreign policy initiatives during the last three years at crucial junctures and was also set to spearhead the resumption of bilateral talks with India in July as well as a controversy arising out of the arrest of a US diplomat Raymond Davis in Pakistan.

US-Pakistan relations have been tense over the last fortnight or so because the country has refused to release Davis despite demands of US administration for diplomatic immunity.

Qureshi was also scheduled to travel to Washington later this month for a meeting with his US counterpart Hillary Clinton as part of the ongoing strategic dialogue between both countries and the matter of Raymond Davis was likely to echo in that meeting as well.

It is not yet known how a new face will be able to pick up all the threads of these sensitive issues without any relevant background or exposure in the hot seat.

The news of Qureshi being dropped came as a surprise in India as there were plans for him to visit New Delhi by July for talks to carry forward the dialogue process.

India Thursday announced that it was ready to resume discussions with Pakistan on all issues after wide-ranging talks between foreign secretaries of the two countries in the Bhutanese capital Sunday.

Other names to miss out at Friday’s oath taking were former information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who is being replaced by Firdous Ashiq Awan and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, whose water and power ministry has gone to Khurshid Shah.

Four new faces - Shaukatullah, Khuda Bakhsh Rajar, Changez Jamali and Umer Gorgej - have been included in the federal cabinet for the first time.

In the next phase, 17-18 more ministers are likely to take oath as the size is likely to be trimmed down to around 40 from the previous 80.

The cabinet had resigned Wednesday to make way for the new smaller-sized cabinet in the wake of the 18th amendment in Pakistan’s constitution as well as vociferous calls by the opposition and the media.

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

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