In a curious turn of events that could prolong the political uncertainty prevailing in Pakistan, a non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against Prime Minister-designate Makhdoom Shahabuddin on Thursday just minutes after he filed his nomination papers for the elections due on Friday evening.
His colleague in the ousted cabinet, Raja Parvez Ashraf, also filed nomination papers as a ``covering candidate’’ and just before close of filing time, former Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira submitted his papers. A contest is on the cards now with Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) fielding a candidate, Mehtab Abbasi, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F) leader Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman filing his nomination papers.
Mr. Shahabuddin remained outwardly unfazed by the arrest warrant issued in the ephedrine scam. Arrest warrants were also issued for former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani’s son, Ali Musa Gilani, in the same case. As Health Minister, Mr. Shahabuddin is alleged to have issued quota for import of the controlled substance to two pharmaceutical companies in which Mr. Ali Musa is said to have some stakes.
Speaking to reporters after filing his nomination papers amid reports of the arrest warrant being issued, Mr. Shahabuddin rejected the charge and said his only fault was being Health Minister when the scam was unearthed.
Mr. Shahabuddin was asked by President Asif Ali Zardari in the early hours of Thursday to contest the elections for Pakistan’s premiership. But presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar maintained that a final decision on who would be the official candidate for premiership had not been taken. ``Formal announcement is predicated on a critical element involving coalition,’’ he told The Hindu but did not elaborate.
Amid the bargaining that is going on with the coalition partners – more difficult among them being the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) which has 50 members in the Assembly and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement – there were indications that the former had been offered the post of deputy premier.
The charges against Mr. Shahabuddin in the ephedrine case were already in place and this was seen as a stumbling block for his candidature but the President’s decision to ask him to file the nomination papers has been interpreted by a section of the local media as an indication of his combative mood in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to show his government the door on Tuesday.
Mr. Shahabuddin – who was Textile Industry Minister in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani – had emerged as a frontrunner from the moment the Supreme Court pronounced its verdict. Mr. Ashraf’s name is a surprise addition as it was not among those in circulation.
Given the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) focus on South Punjab – the party has promised separate statehood to the region – Mr. Shahabuddin was seen as a natural choice to replace Mr. Gilani who also hails from that area. The PPP picks up bulk of its seats in Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab from its southern part.
The main opposition to Mr. Shahabuddin’s candidature apparently came from Mr. Gilani himself as he was averse to another PPP leader from South Punjab occupying that high profile office. Mr. Shahabuddin hails from the landed aristocracy of South Punjab and his family has been involved in politics since Pakistan came into existence.
Mr. Ashraf is from Rawalpindi in North Punjab. He, too, has cases pending against him in the Supreme Court and is among those individuals named in the Rental Power Plant case.