Former FM Qureshi joins Imran Khan party

Islamabad: Former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Sunday joined cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan`s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party, giving it a boost in the run up to the general election scheduled for 2013.

Qureshi, who recently quit the ruling Pakistan People`s Party after being estranged from it earlier this year, told a gathering of about 30,000 people at Ghotki in southern Sindh province that he would be part of Khan`s movement to bring about wide-ranging changes.

"Imran Khan sahab, from today Shah Mahmood is part of your team," Qureshi said as the crowd cheered.

The speech by Qureshi, the custodian of one of the most influential sufi shrines in Punjab, was peppered with spiritual slogans and religious analogies.

At one point, Qureshi likened himself to 10th century Muslim ruler Mahmud of Ghazni, comparing his campaign against the PPP-led government to a movement to "destroy the Somnath temple".

Qureshi compared PPP chief and President Asif Ali Zardari to the Pharaohs of Egypt, saying he had tried to prevent the holding of the rally at Ghotki.

Since Qureshi quit the PPP and parliament earlier this month, he has repeatedly attacked Zardari and other leaders of the PPP, blaming them for failing to tackle problems like corruption, poor governance, rising prices and crippling power cuts.

During his speech, Qureshi called Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani "thieves" and asked the people to get rid of the government. "There is talk of change because people are disappointed by the government of Zardari and Gilani…Is it time to chase away these thieves and confront them?" he asked.

Targeting Zardari, Qureshi thundered: "This rally is being watched by President Zardari, who said the rally would not be allowed and that Shah Mahmood would not be allowed to enter Sindh as he controls it. The people have showed that the province belongs to the Sindhis and not Zardari." He claimed Pakistan`s atomic programme was not safe under Zardari`s leadership and said he would reveal more details during another rally to be held in Karachi next month.

Qureshi also railed against the US and NATO, criticising them for Saturday`s cross-border air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. He claimed he had decided to quit as a minister after the government failed to act against CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who had gunned down three Pakistani men in Lahore in January.

However, Qureshi had actually refused to join the cabinet after he was dropped from the foreign affairs portfolio during a reshuffle earlier this year. "The people have decided and winds of change are blowing through Pakistan from Khyber to Karachi. There will be a change of system, faces and thinking," he said.

In his speech, Imran Khan condemned the NATO air strike in Pakistan`s Mohmand tribal region and demanded that the government pull Pakistan out of the US-led war on terrorism. "They are killing our soldiers even though we are fighting this war for the US. I want to tell the government that the time has come to get out of the US war immediately," he said.

Khan called on the government to take up the NATO attack with the UN Security Council, close all US bases in the country and "throw out all CIA operatives".

The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has shaken up the country`s established political parties since Khan attracted a huge gathering of over 100,000 at a rally in Lahore last month.

Amidst speculation that Khan is being backed by the powerful security establishment, several political leaders have joined the party.