WASHINGTON: The prime minister setting foot in Washington is a visibly relaxed man. He’s fresh from having spearheaded the passage of the 18th amendment bill through the National Assembly and here for the key nuclear summit being hosted by US president Barack Obama.
The reason behind the confidence is Pakistan’s intense involvement in the preparations for the summit and input into the joint communiqué. Pakistan is confident there are going to be no unpleasant surprises.
“I’ve been extremely consistent in working for reconciliation and this has now become our strength,” asserts Yousuf Raza Gilani, when asked about his having become the most powerful man in the country after the passage of the 18th amendment. “But to achieve our goals, we need to work hard - a paradigm shift is needed in government policies to implement our promises.”
But the party’s critics say that the PPP’s government doesn’t resolve issues until matters come to a head and even then, indulges in political brinksmanship. “Previously, there was no fixed responsibility on any one person; it was a hotchpotch,” he counters. “Now, full responsibility rests with the chief executive, which is the prime minister. We’ll be able to concentrate on issues better now.”
So what is the role of the president going to be, especially with the rising chorus of voices asking for the Swiss cases to be reopened? He sidesteps the question about the future role of the president but is firm about his government’s stance on the cases. “The cases cannot be reopened in Switzerland, unless we open them in Pakistan,” he says. While Gilani admits that a two-thirds majority in parliament can strip the president of his immunity, he’s insistent that the immunity holds for now. “There’s no ambiguity on this; had the president been someone other than PPP co-chairman, he would still have had this immunity.
“This is not disrespect for the judiciary; we’re implementing all its orders, except when it comes to the immunity clause,” he argues. “All cases have been reopened and we respect the [National Reconciliation Ordinance] verdict and all decisions of the court.” So what’s on the cards in Washington? “We’ve come a long way in our relationship with the US,” he smiles. “We’ve particularly improved our relationship with the administration of President Obama,” he says, and confides plans to invite the US president to Pakistan. Mr Gilani is scheduled to hold one-on-one talks with President Obama on Sunday evening.