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Pakistan’s former foreign minister seeks new party

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 cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan.

Qureshi, a former stalwart within President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party, announced his departure from the party and his resignation as one of its lawmakers. At odds with the PPP 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 Oct. 30 in the eastern city of Lahore surprised many observers and instantly transformed the former cricket captain from perennial fringe player to potent contender. His sudden rise has made Khan the talk of the town in Islamabad, but analysts say one of his shortcomings remains his party’s lack of proven candidates with constituencies in regions where the PTI has been historically weak.

A move by Qureshi 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.

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Pakistani news reports said that Zardari had asked Qureshi, who lost the foreign minister post during a Cabinet reshuffle, to head 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.

In addition to talking with Khan, Qureshi is considering aligning himself with Zardari’s primary opposition party, the PML-N, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Qureshi said he would announce his new party affiliation Nov. 27 during a visit to the town of Ghotki in Sindh province.

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com


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