January 14, 2013 12:55 pm

Pakistan axes Baluchistan chief minister

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Pakistan has dismissed the chief minister of the country’s restive southwestern Baluchistan province, responding to more than three days of protests by the country’s Shia community following a sectarian attack that killed 96 in the region’s capital Quetta.

Raja Pervez Ashraf, prime minister, announced the decision to dismiss Aslam Raisani, a move that will effectively see the national government take control of the region, after meeting leaders of the city’s Shia community. Control has been handed to governor Zulfiqar Magsi, who is appointed by the president.

Shia mourners had refused to bury the people killed in Thursday’s attack until the control of Quetta was handed over to the military. Later on Monday the Shia leaders ended their protest and the community began burying victims of the suicide bombing.

They said the agreement would permit the army to be deployed in Quetta if necessary.

“The prime minister has allowed the deployment of all organs of the state including the army for the safety of Quetta” said Jan Ali Changezi, a member of the Baluchistan provincial legislature. “This meets my long standing demand. Without the army, conditions will not improve.”

A senior government official who spoke to the Financial Times from Quetta said the army had already been alerted to begin deployments in the city “as soon as possible”.

The government move in Baluchistan came as the capital, Islamabad, was bracing for a separate protest by thousands of supporters of a fiery Pakistani cleric who has been calling for election reforms, adding to the pressure on the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

Authorities constructed barricades and sent riot police into the streets in preparation for the rally by the cleric, Tahirul Qadri, who has recently returned to Pakistan.

“Pakistan’s present system of government has badly failed. We need new reforms to put Pakistan back on track,” said Agha Murtaza Pooya, a senior leader of Mr Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek, or Pakistan People’s Movement. “With the failure to tackle lawlessness in places like Quetta, the government has failed miserably.”

The Quetta killings, blamed on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a hardline Sunni militant group known for its links to the Taliban, have provoked large scale protests across Pakistan. Across Punjab, the largest of Pakistan’s provinces, demonstrators have blocked roads and rail lines.

Analysts warned events in Baluchistan and the likely deployment of troops in Quetta will undermine Mr Zardari’s already weak credentials,amid a faltering economy and allegations of corruption.

“Many people will immediately ask if the army’s taking over of Quetta means that the political set-up has lost legitimacy,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political commentator. “This will be seen as another sign of a government unable to deal with this crisis.”

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