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Sharif makes a comeback in Pak, faces numerous challenges

ISLAMABAD: PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has made a triumphant return to the centre stage of Pakistani politics at a time when the country is bedevilled by immense problems ranging from a tanking economy, corruption to Taliban insurgency.

Thirteen years after he was removed as premier, arrested and humiliatingly sent into exile to Saudi Arabia, Sharif has declared victory in the historic general elections.

In many ways, analysts say, Sharif's return reflects the slow and steady maturing of democracy and politics in Pakistan, which has been run by the military for more than half of its 66-year history.

And it is Sharif's relationship with the powerful military, which sets the agenda for foreign and security policies, that will largely determine the country's future.

The PML-N is set to bag over 125 of the 272 parliamentary seats for which polls were held on Saturday, with the party performing better than expected in the face of a last minute surge by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf.

The PML-N is now comfortably placed to form a coalition government, setting up an unprecedented third term as premier for Sharif.

Sharif is set to return to power at a time when Pakistan is facing several major challenges, including growing extremism, a strong Taliban presence in the country's northwest, rampant corruption, uneasy relations with the US ahead of the withdrawal of foreign forces from war-torn Afghanistan and an economy that has virtually been in free fall for the past few years.

He has already made it clear that he intends to take up India-Pakistan relations from where he had left them when he was ousted from power in 1999.

After conducting nuclear tests in response to India's atomic blasts in 1998, Sharif had worked with his then Indian counterpart Atal Bihari Vajpayee to improve relations.

Talking to the media on Saturday night, Sharif said he worked hard for a detente with New Delhi before Musharraf deposed him.

"We'll pick the threads where we left. We want to move toward better relations with India, to resolve the remaining issues through peaceful means, including that of Kashmir," he said.

Sharif has shown that he is willing to work with other political forces to deal with these issues, saying that all parties should sit with the PML-N to find ways to tackle Pakistan's pressing problems.

In recent days, he has also called for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, blamed for killing scores during the election campaign.

Analysts and commentators also believe the once-impetuous Sharif has matured during his years in exile and out of power.

Many of them point to the fact that he allowed the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government to complete its five-year term, despite being in a position to pull it down, simply because he wanted democracy to grow stronger in Pakistan.

"He is also a practical politician who understands that he cannot wish away the importance of the army. They will learn to work together," Farrukh Pitafi, a columnist and talk show host, told PTI.

"The perception that the civilian government and the military cannot work together is totally misplaced. The army is a prudent institution that understands it has to work with every elected political government," he said.

And while the PML-N is also set to return to power in Punjab — Pakistan's most populous province that has more than half the seats in the lower house of parliament — Sharif will have to walk a fine line in handling inter-provincial relations as Imran Khan's party will be in power in the restive northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa while the PPP is set to form government in southern Sindh province.

Over the past two years, the PML-N launched several populist programmes, including distributing laptops to students and giving away new taxis, and during his campaign, Sharif promised new infrastructure projects like bullet trains and major highways.

Analysts, however, believe Sharif will be hard pressed to find the funds for such schemes.

Over the past five years, the government has been widely accused of economic mismanagement.

The country has remained stuck in a cycle of low growth and high inflation, unable to create jobs for the two million people who enter the employment market annually. — PTIBack








Khurshid hopeful of good ties with new Pak regime

NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Sunday hoped that India will continue to have good relations with Pakistan if former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes to power after the general elections there.

“India welcomes whatever result that comes out of a democratic election. Our government has had relations with Nawaz Sharif. From Prime Minister’s side also congratulations will be offered to him,” Khurshid said.

“I hope we can continue to have good relations if he comes to power,” he said.

Sharif was on Sunday set for a third term as Pakistan’s Prime Minister as his PML-N party took a massive lead over its rivals in early poll results, making a remarkable comeback after having been toppled in a military coup in 1999 and sent into exile. He returned to Pakistan shortly before the 2008 polls and rebuilt his party.

However, as per Pakistan TV projections, no single party would win a simple majority of 172 seats in the 342-member National Assembly.

Sharif’s centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) was leading the race with 126 seats and Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had 34. — PTIBack








Decision to drop Bansal, Ashwani jointly taken
by PM, Sonia: Cong

NEW DELHI: Dropping of P.K. Bansal and Ashwani Kumar from the Union Cabinet was the "joint decision" of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, Congress said on Sunday dismissing reports that the action was at the insistence of the party president.

"It has appeared in a section of the media that it was at the insistence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi that the two ministers were dropped. This perception is not correct.

"The correct position is that it was the joint decision of the Congress president and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said here.

The statement of Dwivedi, who is AICC media department chief, is significant as reports had suggested that Bansal and Kumar, two Cabinet members seen to be close to the Prime Minister, were made to resign by him late on Friday last after the Congress president expressed her displeasure over their continuance in office.

Citing the reports, BJP leader L.K. Advani took a dig at the Prime Minister, saying he should now call it a day as he appeared to have "abdicated" his right to decide on his Cabinet.

"Has the Prime Minister abdicated his right even to decide about his own Cabinet? Today's news reports about the removal of two Union Ministers generally emphasise that, it is Soniaji who has sacked 'two PM's men'.

"Sheer self-respect demands that the PM calls it a day, and orders an early general election," Advani wrote on his blog post.

The reports had it that in a meeting with Singh, Gandhi was understood to have conveyed the party's unease over the public perception against the government for not acting against Bansal and Kumar, who held the Railways and Law Ministry portfolios, respectively.

Bansal resigned on Friday following the arrest of his nephew Vijay Singla last week for allegedly accepting Rs 90 lakh for fixing promotion in the railway board, while Kumar quit in the wake of a raging controversy over his vetting the CBI probe report in the coal block allocations scam.

The issue led to the washout of the second half of the budget session with the opposition demanding the PM's resignation and the sacking of the Law Minister. — PTIBack








I am innocent, nothing will come out in 'bribery' case: Bansal

CHANDIGARH: Maintaining that he was innocent, beleaguered former Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who was forced to resign in the wake of arrest of his nephew on bribery charge, today said "nothing will come out from this case".

"I am not associated with the case. I assure you (party workers) that nothing will come out from this case," the Congress leader, who is now back home rallying support apparently with an eye on next Lok Sabha elections, said at a meeting with local party leaders at his private residence in Chandigarh.

"Only I can say is that I am innocent," he said while seeking support of party workers.

"I repeatedly maintain that I am innocent," he told reporters during the meeting.

Bansal, who returned to his home town on Saturday night for the first time after the arrest of his nephew Vijay Singla for allegedly accepting Rs 90 lakh in bribe from a railway board official to fix a plum post for him, convened a meeting of local party level office bearers and activists here.

The move was seen as attempt to show that he still "enjoys party's support and command".

Bansal will chalk out a political strategy for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls with party workers on Sunday, party insiders said.

Welcoming the CBI investigations into the alleged bribery case, Bansal said that "I have nothing to do with the case."

When his attention was drawn towards BJP's allegations about his family's involvement in the case, a furious Bansal retorted, "It appears I will have to separately explain the definition of family to each one of you (media persons)."

"I have faith in the CBI probe. I don't want to make any comment on the issue, but I have nothing to do with the case," he maintained.

Meanwhile, former MP Satya Pal Jain, a bete noire of Bansal, said that "let him (Bansal) open up."

"I will take him head on. I am in the process of collecting more documents against his family and their firms," he said.

Bansal, an MP from the city, is not new to controversies. He and Ambika Soni, who were members of Heritage Education Society, had courted controversy in 2002 over allocation of land for the society to set up a school.

Bansal's "strong differences" with former UT administrator and Punjab governor Gen (retd) S.F. Rodrigues had also hogged limelight in 2008 amd were blamed for crapping of several projects of Chandigarh, including Medicity, Amusement-cum-Theme Park and Filmcity.

Bansal, along with his wife Madhu and two sons, reached their home in an SUV without a red beacon last night. Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla was arrested May three for allegedly accepting Rs 90 lakh as bribe for helping in the promotion of a Railway Board Member Mahesh Kumar.

In his resignation letter, Bansal had maintained that he was not aware that Singla was in contact with Kumar but he still thought it proper to step down. — PTIBack








Three policemen killed in Chhattisgarh Naxal attack

RAIPUR: Three police personnel were killed and another injured when Naxals attacked a Doordarshan TV tower in Maoist-hit Bastar district of Chhattisgarh early Sunday morning.

“The attack took place at Marenga village under Parpa police station in the district this morning, leaving three police personnel killed and one injured,” Inspector General of Police (IG) Bastar Range Himanshu Gupta said on phone.

Marenga village is around 15 km from Jagdalpur, the district headquarters.

The injured jawan has been referred to Raipur for treatment. Security forces have launched a search operation in the region to nab the attackers. — PTIBack







Ragging victim jumps before train, dies

MUMBAI: A 19-year-old engineering student allegedly committed suicide by jumping before a local train after being fed up of ragging by his college-mates for the past two months, the police said on Sunday.

The victim, Nitin Padalkar, ended his life by jumping before a running train at Kalyan railway station in the neighbouring Thane district on Friday evening, the police said.

He has allegedly named two of his college-mates for harassing him in a suicide note, the police said.

Padalkar, a second-year student of electronics and telecommunications at Ramrao Adik Institute of Technology in Navi Mumbai, was depressed for quite sometime, police sources said.

Nitin left his house in Kalyan at around 6 pm on Friday saying that he was going to meet his friends. Later, his family got the news of his death at around 8.50 pm from police.

Based on the preliminary enquiry and the circumstances of the death, it is suspected that “Padalkar was a victim of ragging”, the police sources said.

“We will question two of his college-mates tomorrow,” sources at Government Railway Police, Kalyan said. — PTIBack




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