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Musharraf swears in Pakistan cabinet full of foes PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 April 2008

Reuters, ISLAMABAD - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf swore in 24 members of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani's cabinet on Monday, six weeks after opposition parties won a general election.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf (top L) swears in cabinet ministers in Islamabad March 31, 2008. There is strong speculation the new government will force U.S. ally Musharraf, who came to power as a general in a 1999 coup, to quit within weeks or months.

There has been some apprehension within Pakistani media and political circles that the United States could try to prop up Musharraf so that counterterrorism operations in the region are not disturbed by the changing of the guard in Islamabad.

"I expect from the international community that it will support democracy in Pakistan and will help us in strengthening democratic institutions," the country's new Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told reporters after being sworn in.

Eleven of the new ministers, including Qureshi, belonged to assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's party, which won the most seats in the Feb. 18 vote. A further nine were from the party of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

Of the other four, one was an independent member of parliament and three were from two junior coalition partners.

Members of Sharif's party wore black armbands as they were sworn in, to protest against Musharraf, whom they consider an unconstitutional president.

"We took the oath because there is a larger objective and that is the restoration of the judiciary," Senior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, who was given the communications and farm portfolios, said Musharraf purged the judiciary in November when he resorted to emergency rule for six weeks to stop the Supreme Court ruling his re-election by the outgoing parliament was unconstitutional.

Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who succeeded her as leader of the Pakistan People's Party, and Sharif have promised to reinstate deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues through a parliamentary resolution within 30 days of forming a government.

That is likely to trigger a show-down with Musharraf, who will fear the judges will resurrect constitutional challenges to his re-election last October.

Pakistan's stock market set a life high last Thursday and appears insensitive to the doubts lingering over Musharraf's fate. The Karachi 100-share index lost almost 1 percent on Monday, but dealers said it was a temporary setback.

"Market fundamentals are still strong, and investors are cautiously optimistic about the new government," said Ashraf Zakaria, a dealer at brokers Ali Hussain Rajabali and Co.

The rupee eased slightly to close at 62.70/76 on Monday, still stronger than the six-year low of 63.11/14 struck on Feb. 16, just before the election.

INVESTORS OPTIMISTIC

As expected, Ishaq Dar, a member of Sharif's party, was appointed finance minister, but he is taking over at a difficult time with inflation hitting Pakistan's poor, fiscal and current account deficits widening alarmingly, fears of recurrent grain shortages and increasingly frequent power cuts.

Musharraf purged the judiciary in November when he resorted to emergency rule for six weeks to stop the Supreme Court ruling his re-election by the outgoing parliament was unconstitutional.

Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who succeeded her as leader of the Pakistan People's Party, and Sharif have promised to reinstate deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and his colleagues through a parliamentary resolution within 30 days of forming a government.

That is likely to trigger a show-down with Musharraf, who will fear the judges will resurrect constitutional challenges to his re-election last October.

Pakistan's stock market set a life high last Thursday and appears insensitive to the doubts lingering over Musharraf's fate. The Karachi 100-share index lost almost 1 percent on Monday, but dealers said it was a temporary setback.

"Market fundamentals are still strong, and investors are cautiously optimistic about the new government," said Ashraf Zakaria, a dealer at brokers Ali Hussain Rajabali and Co.

The rupee eased slightly to close at 62.70/76 on Monday, still stronger than the six-year low of 63.11/14 struck on Feb. 16, just before the election.

INVESTORS OPTIMISTIC

As expected, Ishaq Dar, a member of Sharif's party, was appointed finance minister, but he is taking over at a difficult time with inflation hitting Pakistan's poor, fiscal and current account deficits widening alarmingly, fears of recurrent grain shortages and increasingly frequent power cuts.

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