ISLAMABAD: President Zardari has turned down a proposal by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to sack religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi from the federal cabinet saying that such a move may have an adverse impact on the Hajj corruption case. The PM had proposed that Kazmi be asked to leave in the same manner as defence production minister Abdul Qayyum Jatoi was removed following controversial remarks that minister made in Quetta.
The Zardari snub came when Prime Minister Gilani called the president after Supreme Court judges summoned two federal ministers - Azam Swati and Hamid Saeed Kazmi, in court in the Hajj scam. Both ministers had earlier exchanged allegations of corruption once the scam was highlighted in the media.
Gilani is said to have been in a flux after the exchange of accusations between the two ministers. The PM was advised by his close aides to ask his religious affairs minister to resign, as it would improve his own government’s image in the media and in the public.
Sources said PM Gilani was upset since his own name had started appearing in the media in relation to his alleged role in the appointment of Rao Shakeel. Shakeel is in FIA custody on charges of corruption in the Hajj arrangements. Gilani was advised that it would be proper to ask religious affairs minister to resign on his own, because it would send a good message to the SC where the scam is being heard.
As Gilani was convinced with the logic of this move, he had contacted the president to get the presidential seal of approval. Gilani is understood to have told the president that he wanted to ask Hamid Saeed Kazmi to stay out of the cabinet till his name was cleared.
However, well placed sources said that the president did not appreciate this out of the box approach of asking a cabinet minister to resign when the case was being heard in the Supreme Court and all sorts of stories were being published against the minister in the media. Zardari told the PM not to take any such step as it would demoralise his own minister, particularly when Kazmi was fighting a crucial battle in the apex court.
The sources said that before making the call to the president, the PM was confident that he would get permission to sack his own minister as he had successfully done in the case of Defence Production Minister Abdul Qayyum Jatoi. This was done after Jatoi gave a controversial statement in Quetta against the military leadership of the country. Gilani had summoned Jatoi to the PM House the same evening and told him to resign.
Gilani was of the view that as the religious affairs minister was confident that he did not do anything wrong in the process of leasing of buildings in Saudi Arabia, it should not be a problem for him to first get a clean bill from the courts before resuming his job as the minister.
But, sources said, President Zardari was of the opinion that it would show weakness of his government before the media and a hostile judiciary.
The president has also been informed that Kazmi was being targeted because of sectarian tensions between Barelvi and Deobandi schools of thought. Kazmi belongs to the Barelvi school while Azam Swati is of the Deobandi school. Kazmi had even alleged that he was attacked by gunmen outside his office by the Taliban because for his beliefs.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2010.