Will fight against Khar, replace Ashraf: Dasti

Islamabad: Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is facing a challenge from within her party, with PPP leader and parliamentarian Jamshed Dasti saying he will contest the next general election from her constituency in Punjab.

Dasti has also offered to replace Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf if he is disqualified by the Supreme Court for refusing to revive graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Dasti, who is known to have widespread grassroots support, told reporters in Multan yesterday he would contest the upcoming polls from the parliamentary seat currently held by Khar.

"This is not my decision but the voice of the people," he said. "For the past four years, Khar has visited her constituency only four times and people from her constituency approach me for their problems," Dasti said.

Reports have suggested that Khar could step aside so that her father can contest the next election from her constituency.

Khar contested the polls in 2008 as her father, Ghulam Noor Rabbani Khar, was ineligible due to a rule that barred candidates who were not graduates.

Dasti said he was willing to take on Khar, her father or anyone from her clan in the next election and that he would contest the polls as an independent candidate if he was denied a ticket by the PPP.

"I will not budge even if there is pressure from the PPP leadership not to contest the election in Hina`s constituency. I am not looking for support from the PML-N or Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf," he said.

"I have thrown a challenge to Hina for contesting (polls) but she has invariably told the people that she won`t contest if the party doesn`t award her a ticket. She is using it as a pretext like all people with a defeated mentality," he said.

Both Khar and Dasti belong to the Muzaffargarh area of Punjab province and the parliamentarian has been involved in a long-running feud with the minister and her family.

In 2008, Dasti defeated Khar`s uncle Ghulam Mustafa Khar to be elected to the National Assembly or lower house of parliament.

The defeat was significant as Ghulam Mustafa is a veteran politician who has served as a federal minister and as the Governor and Chief Minister of Punjab.

Though Dasti was disqualified for allegedly possessing a fake educational degree, he was re-elected from the same seat in bypolls.

In a separate development, Dasti offered to replace Ashraf if he is disqualified by the Supreme Court.

The apex court has charged Ashraf with contempt for refusing to reopen the cases against Zardari and summoned him to personally appear on August 27.

Legal experts have said Ashraf faces the possibility of being dismissed like his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani.

"I am ready to offer my services as the next Prime Minister if the PPP leadership proposes, which might happen soon because of the judiciary`s unconstitutional decisions," Dasti said.

"If the party leadership selects me to become the third Prime Minister of the current National Assembly, it will be a matter of pride for me and the area".