Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf swore in a new 24 member cabinet on Monday under new Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. Most members of the new cabinet are deeply hostile to Musharraf including 11 who came from Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), while nine others were members of the PML-N party of Nawaz Sharif. Both the PPP and the PML-N swept to victory in general elections six weeks ago on pledges to limit presidential powers and re-instate judges that Musharraf removed.
The nine PML-N members wore black armbands in protest against Musharraf as he swore them in. The new ministers said they wore the black armbands to make it clear that while they had agreed to be sworn in by him, it did not mean they had accepted his legitimacy as President. The PML-N is pushing for the reinstatement of the deposed Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhary, and 63 judges of the superior courts dismissed in Musharraf’s emergency rule pronouncement in November last year. New law minister Farooq Naek told Pakistan’s Dawn TV that the November “provisional constitutional order” was not legal as it had not been validated by Parliament.
Later that day, the Cabinet’s first meeting under Prime Minister Gillani announced it had set up two committees, one for the restoration of the judiciary and the other into the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The FCR dates back to British Indian times is a set of draconian laws imposed by the Raj to subdue Pashtun areas. Its laws allow for collective punishment and securing easy convictions under a trial by jirga chosen by political authorities. Under the law, many women and children are serving prison sentences in the North West Frontier Province for crimes they did not commit.
The committee to reinstate the judiciary is a direct response to the six-point Murree Declaration signed between the PPP and the PML-N to finalise the formation of government between the two parties following the 18 February election. The six points are: 1. form a coalition to give practical shape to the mandate 2. restore the deposed judges sacked in November 3. support the candidature of the Prime Minister proposed by the PPP 4. the PPP to provide the speaker and deputy speaker of the national parliament and the PML-N to fill these posts in the Punjab assembly 5. Both parties would be part of the national and Punjab governments and 6. both parties were ready for the national and provincial assemblies to be summoned immediately.
The PPP’s choice of Prime Minister in point 3 above was Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani. The 55 year old Gillani was born in Karachi of Punjabi parents. He was educated at the University of the Punjab gained an MA in journalism. His family are influential in the southern Punjabi city of Multan and Gillani political career was launched there in 1985 when he was elected to the national parliament on a Muslim League ticket. After serving as a Minister under President Zia, he switched to the PPP in 1988 when he was re-elected defeated Nawaz Sharif in the process. He served as speaker of the national assembly between 1993 and 1996. Gillani was jailed in 2001 by Musharraf following a conviction over illegal government appointments. Gillani served five years for charges he said were “concocted and…fabricated”.
Given his background Gillani is unlikely to be a yes-man for Bhutto’s husband and PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari. While many in Pakistan expected Zardari to nominate Amin Fahim (who was parliamentary leader of the PPP), D Suba Chandran writing in Indiapost.com suggests that Nawaz Sharif may have vetoed Fahim’s appointment as he was perceived to be too close to Musharraf. Another factor may have been the fact that like Sharif, Gillani is Punjabi and this would shore up PPP support in the north.
Whatever the reason, Gillani has started strongly and announced that every member of his cabinet would be expected to adhere to the 100-day programme he announced in the national assembly to provide immediate relief to Pakistan’s poor. Gillani said his government’s priorities were improvement in the energy situation, availability of wheat and job opportunities. He has asked each minister to provide a report on the conditions each of them had inherited in their new ministries. He told Dawn that Pakistani people wanted to see a change in the system of governance and a qualitative change in their life. This is an ambitious task. Gillani may start by insisting on a qualitative change in the life of President Musharraf by given him the boot in the next three months.