PPP slams Qureshi, with speculation over disciplinary action

Qureshi, who skipped the swearing-in ceremony for Pakistan's new cabinet on Friday after he learnt that the PPP leadership had decided not to reallocate the foreign affairs portfolio to him, said that US official Raymond Davis is not a diplomat according to official records and experts in the Foreign Office and could not be given "blanket diplomatic immunity".

"The kind of blanket immunity Washington is pressing for Davis is not endorsed by the official record of the Foreign Ministry," said Qureshi.

"On the basis of the official record and the advice given to me by the technocrats and experts of the Foreign Office, I could not certify him (Davis) as a diplomat," he told The News daily.

The PPP launched a frontal attack on the former minister after he made his views public. PPP secretary general Raja Pervez Ashraf compared Qureshi to late President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari, who had dismissed former premier Benazir Bhutto's government in 1996 despite belonging to the PPP.

The late President's name is often used in Pakistani politics to derisively refer to a turncoat. Ashraf said the "tone and tenor of Qureshi indicates that another Leghari is in the making in the party".

"Mr Shah Mahmood Qureshi's fate will not be different than that of Leghari," he added. Information Minister Firdous Aashiq Awan, considered close to PPP chief Asif Ali Zardari's camp, said Qureshi's statements were not in Pakistan's favour and would "create a bad environment in the country".

"Shah Mahmood had not shown his concerns when he was Foreign Minister and now these remarks about Davis are not in favour of the country," Awan told a news channel. Reports have suggested that the PPP decided to remove Qureshi from the foreign ministry because of his decision not to back a move by the party's top leadership to grant diplomatic immunity to Davis, who was arrested in Lahore last month after he shot and killed two men.

Ashraf said Qureshi, like other former ministers, was always given a chance by the PPP to provide inputs in the government's decision-making process and all party leaders had unanimously agreed to the move to curtail the size of the cabinet.

Qureshi "must realize that his efforts to pressurize the party shall never become a reality as the party does not owe its strength to individuals but to the people of Pakistan", Ashraf said.

"It seems that Qureshi has joined the band wagon of political actors hatching conspiracies against the party leadership but this new conspiracy would also fail like the previous ones," he added.

Ashraf said it was "quite strange" that Qureshi's revelations about the Davis case "came only after his exclusion from the cabinet" though the incident was in the news for the past few weeks and the PPP's top leadership had said that the matter would be decided by the courts.

There was "no ambiguity or confusion" in the government's stance, he said. Questioning the veracity of Qureshi’s disclosures, Ashraf said he had insisted on keeping the foreign affairs portfolio after being offered the water and power ministry.

“This showed that Mr Qureshi's conscience awakened to the call of his personal interest and not the national interest as he is trying to prove by feeding false stories to the media,” he added.

A section of the PPP's leadership has also said that Qureshi might face disciplinary action if he does not clear his position to the party chief, President Zardari. Relations between Pakistan and the US have plunged to a new low over the diplomatic immunity row for Davis.

Pakistani leaders have rebuffed repeated US demands for Davis to be freed on the ground that he has diplomatic immunity. The US has suspended all high-level contacts with Pakistan and postponed a crucial trilateral meeting later this month that was to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

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