Islamabad: The simmering differences between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have once again come to the fore with tit-for-tat cancellations by the two leaders and three ministers considered close to the President being threatened with marching orders.
Gilani cast the first round in the current spat by rescinding his one-time mentor Zardari`s appointment of Jahanzeb Khan as the ambassador to France, saying he had not been consulted and that the appointment had been made while he was in Sharm el-Sheikh last week for the Non-Aligned Movement summit.
For good measure, Gilani also threatened to sack three ministers close to Zardari, one of whom is believed to be Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
One indication of this was an interview published Monday in which Gilani was quoted as saying: "Enough is enough. I have assessed the performance of my ministers during the last one year. Now I have to make some changes according to merit, not according to somebody`s liking and disliking because I am responsible for running a country of more than 170 million people."
No names were taken, but the "somebody" referred to was clearly Zardari.
The other indication was when Gilani stopped the implementation of Malik`s order laying down jail terms for Pakistanis sending anti-government - and more importantly, anti-Zardari-e-mails and SMS messages.
"I am not bothered about any e-mail or SMS because nobody is sending anything against me," the prime minister added for good measure.
"This too is going to be interpreted as an act against the authority of the President because Mr. Malik is known to be Mr. Zardari`s protege," Daily Times noted in an editorial Monday.
Zardari struck back Monday, indicating that he would not agree to Gilani`s proposal to appoint administrators in the four provinces in place of the district nazims, who are akin to mayors and are coordinators of cities and towns in Pakistan.
After reviewing the provinces` demand, which was referred to the president by the prime minister, the presidency issued a statement on Monday saying any amendment to the local government system required parliament`s approval.
Presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said Zardari was of the view that the local government system had constitutional protection under the sixth schedule.
This could prove to be another sticky point between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that leads the federal coalition and the principal opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif that was once part of the alliance.
The PPP and the PML-N had come together after their one-two finish in the February 2008 general elections but fell apart after Zardari, who is the PPP co-chair with his son Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, reneged on key pledges made in the governance agenda agreed on before the polls.
There were three key elements in the governance agenda:
* Restoration of the Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and the other judges then president Pervez Musharraf had sacked after declaring an emergency Nov 3, 2007,
* Repeal of the controversial 17th constitutional amendment Musharraf had pushed through parliament in 2002 transferring key executive powers from the prime minister`s office to the presidency,
* Appointing administrators in place of the district nazims.
The judges were restored after Nawaz Sharif led a bruising lawyers` "long march" to Islamabad in March, with Zardari capitulating at the very last minute after Gilani and Pakistani Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani read him the riot act.
And, in April, while addressing a joint session of parliament, Zardari announced that the 17th amendment would be repealed. A committee has been formed to work out the modalities for this but there has been no other movement forward.