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Pakistan's prime minister resigns

By
ANWAR IQBAL, UPI South Asian Affairs Analyst

WASHINGTON, June 26 (UPI) -- Pakistan's ruling party nominated Saturday a new interim prime minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, hours after the resignation of the incumbent premier.

Hussain heads the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Q) party, which also announced in Islamabad that Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz will be elected the new regular prime minister in three months.

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Aziz was a senior official at the City Bank in the United States before he went to Pakistan to become the finance minister three years ago.

"Pakistan facing a lot of challenges. We need to work together to move ahead and prosper," said Aziz while accepting his nomination as the prime ministerial candidate of the ruling party.

He is a personal friend of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitiz. Since he also has headed City Bank's operations in Saudi Arabia, Aziz also enjoys good relations with the Saudi monarchy.

Saudi Arabia has a major influence in Pakistan as the home of Islam's two holiest shrines, Mecca and Medina.

"We don't expect any major changes in U.S.-Pakistan relations," said a senior State Department official when asked for comments on the change in Pakistan.

"We look forward to working with the new Pakistani government in the future. We will continue to work closely with the Pakistani government, on a broad front as well as the war against terrorism," he said.

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The Pakistani constitution requires a regular prime minister to be elected within 90 days after the departure of an incumbent ruler.

Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali resigned earlier Saturday after a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf.

An official announcement issued in Islamabad said Musharraf has accepted the resignation, although Jamali denied he gave his resignation to the president. Instead he said he submitted the resignation letter to the head of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party.

Jamali also announced he has dissolved the federal cabinet and all members of the cabinet will submit their resignations by Sunday evening.

Aziz will now have to resign from the upper house of parliament and then stand for a seat to the lower house or the National Assembly.

A prime minister must be a member of the National Assembly, which will now elect a new premier.

Rumors of Jamali's resignation have been circulating for weeks.

Addressing a news conference in Islamabad earlier Saturday, Jamali handed over a copy of his resignation to Hussain. "I am a political worker, and I am submitting my resignation to my party chief," he said.

"For the last 37 days, I have been the target of a campaign. I endured it with patience and grace, but the time has come that I end all these rumors," said Jamali.

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"I ruled this country for 20 months and gave it a clean and efficient government and had no personal ambitious or vendetta. I apologize if I hurt anyone by mistake."

The opposition has condemned the resignation, saying that Musharraf forced Jamali to resign.

"It is a sad moment for democracy in Pakistan. I wish he had not resigned," said the parliamentary opposition leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman. "We were with the prime minister."

Rahman and other opposition leaders had recently met Jamali and assured him that the opposition would vote for him if his dispute with Musharraf lead to a vote of confidence in the parliament.

The country's main opposition group, Pakistan People's Party, said Musharraf removed Jamali to bring a man of his choice. The party said that although Musharraf also had brought Jamali, the two leaders began to have "differences over Musharraf's policies."

Neither the opposition nor the government explained what those differences were.

Jamali became prime minister less than two years ago following general elections that brought a divided parliament.

Musharraf came to power in October 1999 through a bloodless coup against the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who was widely seen as corrupt and inefficient.

A Supreme Court verdict required Musharraf to hold elections in three years and hand over power to an elected government.

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Instead of transferring full power to a civilian setup, Musharraf forced the lawmakers to amend the Pakistani constitution which allowed him to retain most of his powers while transferring some to the new prime minister.

But political analysts in Islamabad say that even this arrangement was apparently unacceptable to Musharraf, who was used to having unfettered powers, and he soon started disputing with the civilians. His differences with the new civilian setup, the analysts say, finally led to Jamali's departure.

The change came on the eve of new talks between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir territory. The two countries have fought three wars during the last 56 years, two of them over Kashmir.

Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar arrived in India Saturday for talks with his Indian counterpart. It's the first time in three years that India and Pakistan are discussing the Kashmir dispute.

Last year, the two countries, who now also posses nuclear weapons, came close to yet another war but were disengaged by the United States and other world powers.

Relations between the two countries began to improve in January, when the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Islamabad and signed a peace agreement.

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Since then the two countries have taken several measures to build confidence and have also held several meetings.

Officials at the ministry of foreign affairs, when contacted by UPI, said the change in Islamabad would not affect talks with India.

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