Pakistan’s New PM: Raza Gilani

The first sentence of the AP report on the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, is rather telling:

When former parliament speaker Yousaf Raza Gilani was first tipped as a contender to be prime minister, he quipped that taking high office in Pakistan’s cutthroat politics could fast-track him back to prison. (link)

Wait — back to prison?

In fact, Gilani spent five years in prison on corruption charges that may have been political in nature, and was only released in October 2006. Musharraf can’t be thrilled that a person his government once accused of defrauding the government of millions ($30 million, to be exact) is now running an overwhelmingly dominant coalition government against him. (As a side note, I find it interesting that Gilani was actually a member of Zia Ul-Haq’s government in the early 1980s, before switching over to the PPP. I haven’t been able to ascertain anywhere why he switched — what Zia stood for ideologically is quite the opposite of the PPP. Does anyone have the scoop on this aspect of Gilani’s past?)

The media is reporting that the real power will still lie with Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower, and president of the PPP. Zardari, for his part, really was corrupt (charges against him too have been dropped recently), so if one believes that Gilani’s status as PM will mean a lesser likelihood of a return to the bad old days of the Benazir Bhutto regimes, one might be relieved at this turn of events.

Then again, there is also a suggestion that Zardari will run for Parliament in a by-election this summer, which would qualify him to be Prime Minister. If I were Zardari I might skip that step, and wait until Musharraf steps down as President. One would expect him to aim for the office where the real power lies in Pakistan — the Presidency.

Finally, the big question on everyone’s minds has to be the status of the former Supreme Court justices, who were detained last fall and also recently released (but not reinstated). If the new Parliament decides to go the route of confronting Musharraf directly, will not the poop hit the punkah [pukka in Punjabi]? Will Musharraf step down without a fight?

17 thoughts on “Pakistan’s New PM: Raza Gilani

  1. If I were Zardari I might skip that step, and wait until Musharraf steps down as President. One would expect him to aim for the office where the real power lies in Pakistan — the Presidency

    Not really, both India and Pakistan have adopted the British form of the parliament post independence, in which the President’s role is supposed to be mostly ceremonial.

    Of course in case of Pakistan though, becuase of the many coups in the past, the president did have executive authority on several occasions. But in the presence of an active prime minister, president’s powers are mostly ineffective.

    It will be interesting to see how the power struggle develops, if Musharraf wants to get involved in the governance of the country more than what’s necessary.

  2. will not the poop hit the pukka?

    Hahaha, Amardeep, that was hillarious. Not sure how many other would actually get that though :-)

  3. Will Musharraf step down without a fight?

    Well, now that he’s not COAS, the real question underlying this one is not simply whether Musharraf himself will fight, but whether the Army will be willing to fight his battles for him against a government backed by an energized and mobilized Pakistani public. Early indications suggest perhaps not. Reports also have hinted that Musharraf has been scrambling to cut some sort of a deal on the deposed judges (not just Supreme Court but also High Courts, some 60-plus judges in all) in which the Chief Justice and perhaps some others would NOT be restored, which is a nonstarter for the lawyers’ movement and apparently the new government.

    Does anyone have the scoop on this aspect of Gilani’s past?

    Based only on what I’ve read in the past several days, Gilani was part of the Junejo government that came to power after the nonpartisan elections in 1985 (not, strictly speaking, Zia’s pre-1985 martial law government). He had some sort of conflict with Junejo, lost his cabinet post, and joined the PPP after that. After Zia dismissed the Junejo government, Gilani ran on the PPP ticket in the 1988 and subsequent elections.

    On the corruption charges that landed Gilani in jail under Musharraf, it is worth noting that Musharraf has played a lot of games when it comes to corruption charges from almost the very moment he took over the country. (Including more recently, of course, the trumped up charges leveled against the Chief Justice.) In Gilani’s case, the corruption charges may have been retaliatory. Apparently, Musharraf even offered to drop those charges if Gilani agreed to support him, but Gilani refused to take the deal and ended up in prison.

    If I were Zardari I might skip that step, and wait until Musharraf steps down as President. One would expect him to aim for the office where the real power lies in Pakistan — the Presidency.

    Under the 1973 Constitution, parliament is supposed to be supreme, and restoring parliamentary supremacy has been a central agenda item for the main political parties, including the PPP. Having waged an entire election and created a coalition government with other parties on the basis of restoring parliamentary supremacy, it would be somewhat odd and controversial for Zardari to turn around and seek “real power” through a strong presidency, along the lines fashioned by Musharraf and Zia before him, at the expense of parliament. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t seek to be president, but if he did I doubt he would do so because of the powers that Musharraf has accumulated in that office, for according to his own statements many of those powers are extraconstitutional and should be eliminated.

  4. Hang on a minute- So Gilani was locked up for corruption, and is now PM of Pakistan. Zardari has the real power, and is also really corrupt. I’m assuming there’s some silver lining I’m just not seeing here…

  5. poop hits the punkah, no? isn’t there an n somewhere there or is that my kolkata accent breaking thru?

  6. 4 · Ravneet said

    will not the poop hit the pukka? Hahaha, Amardeep, that was hillarious. Not sure how many other would actually get that though :-)

    OK, I didn’t get it Amardeep! Did you mean punkha (fan) or pukka (solid, or figuratively, the real thing, authentic) :)

    Gillani is in fact the result of a fairly nuanced choice by Zardari. Although he’s a PPP member, he’s Punjabi. Although he’s Punjabi, he’s Shia, and his family is related to famous Shia religious figures from Sindh like the Pir Pagaro. He’s a former Speaker of the National Assembly, a former Cabinet Minister as well, and unlike Makhdoom Fahim, was not seen as being overly eager for the PM’s job. Although beholden to Zardari in a sense (as Manmhohan Singh might be to Sonia Gandhi) – he has his own power base unlike Singh, and is seen as a man of integrity and competence like Singh. The corruption charges for which he spent time in jail dealt with dispensation of government jobs to constituents, not some personal enrichment scheme. And he’s not going to be beholden to the military in the way so many other Punjabi politicians in Pakistan have been.

    I saw a documentary program yesterday (filmed by a Geo TV crew a few months ago) – in which they followed him around for a whole day, and had several candid interviews with him. This was filmed before the elections were announced. He comes across as personally affable – that someone like Nawaz Sharif does not, and more urbane too. He also confessed to developing something of a crush on Aishwarya Rai during his time in jail. He says he liked her acting style! He also likes old Lata Mangeshkar songs. When you think about it, this shows a level of personal and political security that bodes well on all counts.

  7. Al Beruni, Oops — that was a Punjabi-ism. Punkah in Hindi.

    Anil and Srini, thanks for the clarification as to what the office of the President is supposed to be in Pakistan. I’m so used to Musharraf’s dictatorship that I hadn’t realized it’s not normally structured this way.

  8. Now I’m wondering how this will shape up the US foreign policy towards Pakistan. Is it possible to have US troops in Pakistan in the next year or two given the current conditions (since Mush Mash won’t be that powerful as he was in the past). I was reading before Bhutto’s death, and how she wanted the US there.

  9. I saw a documentary program yesterday (filmed by a Geo TV crew a few months ago) – in which they followed him around for a whole day, and had several candid interviews with him.

    One more rather extraordinary thing from that interview: Asked to name a book that particularly influenced him, Gillani named Maulana Azad’s India wins Freedom. Maulana Azad, as we know, opposed Partition, was dismissed as a ‘Congress Muslim’ and famously shunned by Jinnah. Thus, to name a book he authored as one that influenced him most – is extraordinary for a Pakistani politician. And – although Gillani’s father and uncles signed the Pakistan Resolution of 1940, his grandfather was a member of the pre-Partition Central Legislative Assembly of the Raj, meeting in New Delhi – a rough contemporary of Motilal Nehru. Gillani himself started out in the Muslim League, but left it soon for the PPP – at a time when Zia was in power and Bhutto had recently been hanged, and when Zia was officially encouraging Islam as a component of political ideology. Thus he seems to be genuinely different Pakistani politician in many ways.

    Both he and Zardari have made extremely positive statements on India recently. Zardari in particular expressed the hope that he could lead an all-party Pakistani delegation to New Delhi soon after the new government takes office for wide-ranging talks leaving Kashmir off the table. I hope that, despite the emerging uncertainty over India’s own political future now that the Budget has been presented and the nuclear deal is moving toward the end-game, India will invite him soon and set the ball rolling. The time may well have arrived for a truly new beginning in the subcontinent. We can hope.

  10. Will Musharraf step down without a fight?

    His way of fighting will be that he will not fight a political fight of the civilian domain. Now he will focus back on the works of the army-intel in the war on terror with the backing of Americans. The Americans through the State department will do his job of keeping the politicians at bay so that his people in the army-intel can concentrate on the war. Already on the day of swearing in of the new PM the state dept. officials were camping in Pakistan. The Pak army ( though strong supporters of the Mushy ) will try to please the politicians ( opponents of Mushy ) by replacing people in the army. But he will control the real people involved in the general war on terror through his trusted professional General Kayani. This way he will give a last shot to show some real successes on the war on terror and claim that as his legacy.

    Howz that as a prediction ?

  11. One would expect him to aim for the office where the real power lies in Pakistan — the Presidency.

    I don’t know. Growing up, I heard of the Pak president dismissing the PM and the PM dismissing the president. So, it seems that it’s a question of who the army is with.

  12. 8 · chachaji said

    He also confessed to developing something of a crush on Aishwarya Rai during his time in jail. He says he liked her acting style! He also likes old Lata Mangeshkar songs

    New resident of Russia - Mededev claims he is a great fan of hard rock especially Deep Purple, Black sabbath, Led Zepple and the new PM of Pak is a fan of Aish and Lata. Nice combo !!

  13. Khwaja Aftab Ali- USA wrote

    Hearty Eid Greetings to the People’s Prime Minister of Pakistan and special appreciation for the recent development activities in Multan greater area. Would prime minister be kind enough to work on a mega project for this neglected area of Southern Punjab to create enough jobs which may stop poor people of this area to be exploited in big cities of the country. Last but not least, if the Prime minister could arrange to move/ transfer the Head Quarters of Pakistan Railways in Multan area-the real center of the country to boost under developed area and provide an opportunity to earn fortune by selling railways expansive land in Lahore, mostly used for railway officers’ residence. I hope PM will do his best as no one stays for ever on this authoritative important positions. Sincerely , Khwaja Aftab Ali, Advocate/ I.P. Attorney

    FIVE REGIONAL CITIES OF PAKISTAN should be upgraded with in the provinces in the country. Regional cities of Dera Ismail Khan in NWFP, Gawadar/ Qalat in Balouchistan, Sukkar/ Larkana in Upper Sind, Jehlam/ Rawalpindi and Multan in Punjab province. These regional cities have been ignored by the federal and provincial governments although these cities have their own history, culture and languages.Dera Ismail Khan in south of Pakhtun khwa/MWFP is under seige, Multan/DG Khan in south of Punjab is next target of religious extremists,Sukkar/ Larkana is being rule by criminals, Gawadar/ Qalat is trouble some. The people of these regions have to travel to provincial capitals for every small issue and requirement of the daily life which should be provided in nearby cities. A good number of population travel to big cities for their survival to earn livelihood as the local feudal own majority land and keep the common man as their slaves. Creation of regional government and upgrading of the regional cities will save a lot of money and time of the poor people of these regions. Circuit benches of the High Courts are already working in these areas and only requirement is the additional staff of different departments involved in additional work at the provincial capitals. The concern authorities should immediately consider to upgrade the regional cities. And immediate attention should be given upgrade/build the airports,TV station, civic center, libraries,hospitals, educational institutes and investment opportunities for Pakistanis living abroad and foreign firms to create jobs in the area as majority population in rural Pakistan do not have enough resources to survive. It’s remind me the condition of pre Islamic revolution of Iran in Shah time when the rural Iran was ignored and the capital Tehran was developed in a way to call it Paris of Middle East with modern life style. Couple of other big cities like Isfahan and Caspian sea was taken care of because of foreign tourists but rural area was ruled by cruel police and intelligence. Then what happen rural population supported the Islamic revolution and moved to Tehran and other big cities later on. The new government after revolution developed, built and upgraded the rural areas of Iran accordingly. A fund to upgrade/build these regional cities in Pakistan should be intoduced by public and private sector and Pakistani government, our foreign friends and Pakistanis living abroad may be asked to participate in this development mission in the country..KHWAJA AFTAB ALI,( former secretary, Iranian embassy, Saudi Arabia,1979-88) Advocate High Court & I.P. Attorney-first & the only Pakistani lawyer who earned Intellectual Property laws scholarship in USA,presently residing in Florida, USA. all_languages@hotmail.com