Qureshis political fate uncertain as PPP gun for him

Islamabad: A question mark hangs over the future of Shah Mahmood Qureshi, till recently Pakistan`s Foreign Minister who was scheduled to travel to India for talks by June, with the leadership of the ruling PPP sharply attacking him for "hatching conspiracies" against the party.

Qureshi was shunted out of the Foreign Office and given the Water and Power portfolio in last week`s downsizing and reshuffle of the Pakistani cabinet but unhappy over the change the 54-year-old PPP leader decided not to attend the swearing in ceremony.

Media reports suggested that his strong views against granting immunity to the US official arrested for gunning down two men in Lahore had not gone down well with the PPP leadership.

Following an interview he gave to a newspaper strongly suggesting that US official Raymond Davis was not eligible for diplomatic immunity, the PPP has stepped up its tirade against the former foreign minister.

Qureshi has "no future" in the PPP and "serious disciplinary action will be taken against him for violating party discipline and humiliating its leadership", PPP spokesperson Fauzia Wahab told the Dawn newspaper.

Wahab said Qureshi had "ditched the party leadership and it was not the first time he had done so".

She said Qureshi`s role as Foreign Minister over the past three years was questionable and that he did not support President Asif Ali Zardari when he faced criticism in the media over his foreign trips.

Stung by the criticism from within his party ranks, Qureshi said he was heart-broken and pleaded for the party to make the reasons for divesting him of the key portfolio of the foreign minister to be made known.

"My heart is broken. I have gone and pleaded with the leadership. I have asked please, please tell me why I am not being given the portfolio of the foreign minister? I have asked them what is my mistake? I need to know. I am not above scrutiny, but what wrong did I commit?" Qureshi asked.

Several senior PPP leaders, including party secretary general Raja Parvez Ashraf and Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan yesterday launched a scathing attack on Qureshi.

To make matters worse, Qureshi, in an interview to the News daily published yesterday said that as per the records of the Foreign Office and experts, he was of the view that Davis could not be granted diplomatic immunity.

Reacting to his statements, Information and Broadcasting Minister Awan said he should not be discussing the issue, that is sub judice, before the media, instead of discussing it within the party.

Qureshi was Pakistan`s foreign minister since 2008 and was scheduled to visit India by June this year for the next round of the Indo-Pak Foreign Minister meeting.

Despite all of Qureshi`s "past acts, the party leadership had decided to include him in the new cabinet" but Qureshi created a crisis just 25 minutes before the oath-taking ceremony at the Presidency on Friday, Awan said.

It is the PPP leadership`s job to assign a responsibility to a party member but Qureshi was not ready to accept a change in his portfolio, she said.

Asked whether Qureshi had differences with the party on the issue of arrested US official Raymond Davis, Wahab said, "If he had a problem over the issue he should have resigned earlier."

Ashraf compared Qureshi to late PPP leader Farooq Leghari, who had during his tenure as President sacked the government of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto in 1996.

He also accused Qureshi of joining the "band wagon of political actors hatching conspiracies against the party leadership".

Awan, considered close to PPP chief Zardari`s camp, said Qureshi had not expressed his concerns when he was Foreign Minister and his remarks about Davis were "not in favour of the country".

Awan also sought to question why Qureshi had expressed his differences with the government after a court had issued an arrest warrant for former President Pervez Musharraf in connection with Benazir Bhutto`s assassination.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar has confirmed to the media that Qureshi met Zardari on Friday night but he refused to divulge details of the meeting.

Babar described it as a routine meeting of a former minister with the President and expressed ignorance about statements by other PPP leaders against Qureshi.

Qureshi said he was also "absolutely devastated" by criticism from Information Minister Awan, who had linked his refusal to join the cabinet with an arrest warrant issued by a court against former President Pervez Musharraf in connection with Benazir Bhutto`s assassination.

Awan has sought to imply that Qureshi wants to "save" Musharraf and that he is a "personal friend" of the former military ruler.

"I cannot believe this. It is extremely sad that this is coming from someone who was recently with the (PML-Q). In fact, let the records speak for themselves," Qureshi told The News daily.