REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD -- Once the foreign policy face of Pakistan, Shah Mehmood Qureshi has severed ties with the country’s ruling party and is now eyeing a new political life, possibly with a rising party led by former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan.
Qureshi, a former foreign minister and onetime stalwart within President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), announced on Monday his departure from the party and resignation as one of its lawmakers. At odds with Zardari’s party since his ouster as foreign minister in February, Qureshi has been talking with Khan about joining his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
Khan's ability to attract an estimated 100,000 Pakistanis to a rally in the eastern city of Lahore on Oct. 30 surprised many observers and instantly transformed the former cricket captain from perennial fringe player to potent contender. His sudden rise has made him the talk of the town in Pakistan, but analysts say one of his shortcomings remains his party's lack of proven candidates with constituencies in regions where PTI has been historically weak. Qureshi's move to Khan's party would help fill that gap.
Qureshi, 55, has strong backing in the southern districts of Punjab, Pakistan's wealthiest and most populous province, and in rural parts of Sindh province -- both areas where Khan is weak.
Pakistani media reported that Zardari had asked Qureshi to head up the country's water and power ministry, but Qureshi refused. On Tuesday, Qureshi told reporters in the southern Punjab city of Multan that he was not forced out but resigned after being pressured by Zardari to declare that a former CIA contractor who had shot two Pakistani men to death in January had diplomatic immunity.
Although Qureshi has talked with Khan, he also is considering aligning himself with Zardari's primary opposition, the PML-N, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Qureshi said he will announce his new party affiliation during a visit to the town of Ghotki in Sindh province on Nov. 27.
-- Alex Rodriguez
Photo: Former Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Credit: Associated Press