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Faheem steps into the limelight

world Updated: Feb 25, 2008 22:22 IST
Vinod Sharma

Tipped to be Pakistan’s next Prime Minister, Makhdoom Amin Faheem has a temperament tailored to carry along parties that might share power with the PPP in the political coalition being given shape in Islamabad. But what could clinch the PPP vice-chairman’s candidature is his long association with the Bhutto family, cemented by unwavering loyalty to Benazir during her period of exile.

On Monday morning, Faheem spoke to the Hindustan Times by telephone from Islamabad.

Will it be in order to call him PM-designate? “I wouldn’t say it,” he replied. “I’m waiting till there is an official announcement.” But how long could be the wait? “I’m not worried. I don’t know. May be a day or two, or even longer.”

Faheem did not deny outright reports of beefed-up personal security amid early signs of protocol due to a man who could be Prime Minister. Further proof of a likely promotion were his cautiously-framed responses to questions on the new regime’s ties with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

On the prospects of having to work with Musharraf in a power troika involving the President, the PM and the Army Chief, the PPP leader alluded to his party’s agenda to make Parliament sovereign and undo the amendments to the Constitution.

“We’ll work under the Constitution. We’ll follow its provisions,” said Faheem.

He left to another time his prognosis on the coalition’s anatomy and the concomitant power-sharing at the Centre and in the provinces: “I’ll go into details later. Our main objective is to strengthen democracy and the rule of law.” He was optimist about a common minimum programme emerging from the coalition partners’ individual manifestos.

Faheem referred to PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari’s talks with Nawaz Sharif to forecast a power-sharing pact with the Nawaz League. “They discussed everything in detail. I expect power-sharing.”

Relatively unknown outside his own country, Faheem, who held Urban Affairs and Telecommunication portfolios in previous PPP regimes, is the gaddi nasheen (head) of a 1000-year-old spiritual seat at Hala, near Hyderabad, in Sindh. His father Makhdoom Talibul Moula was a close associate of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose newly-floated PPP held its first meeting in Hala back in 1967.

Faheem maintained equally close relations with Benazir. According to his maternal uncle Tahir Ghaznavi and PPP leader Anwar-ur-Rehman, he thrice rebuffed Musharraf’s overtures to make him Prime Minister on the condition that he distanced himself from Benazir.

The spiritual seat presided by Faheem has faithfuls across Pakistan and India. In the mid-sixties, the believers going by the name of sarvari jamaat were estimated at nine-lakh. That earned the seat the sobriquet naulakhi godari (the nine-lakh basket).

“Faheem sahib will be PM one hundred per cent,” claimed Ghaznavi. For his part, Anwar-ur-Rehman hailed him as a leader who tended to listen rather than pontificate. “That’s a rare quality among Pakistani politicians,” he said.