Qureshi`s remarks on Davis angered PPP: Party leaders

Pakistan`s ex-foreign minister had said Raymond Davis does not have diplomatic immunity.

Lahore: Pakistan`s ex-foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi`s contention that American official Raymond Davis, arrested for gunning down two men here, does not have diplomatic immunity has angered the ruling PPP and may have ended his chances of a reconciliation with its top leadership, according to party leaders.

President Asif Ali Zardari, who also heads PPP, stopped party members from issuing any statement against Qureshi after he spurned the water and power portfolio during a recent shake-up of the Cabinet and claimed that Davis did not enjoy "blanket immunity”.

However, party leaders said Zardari`s camp was angered by Qureshi`s actions.

"He went too far against the party`s interest at his press conference on Wednesday. It has given a clear signal that Qureshi has made up his mind to join the anti-Zaradari camp," a PPP leader considered close to the President said.

The PPP leader, who did not want to be named, said Qureshi`s "revelations" about Davis embarrassed the government and further complicated the stand-off with the US over the detained official.

The PPP`s leadership, the leader said, had conveyed to Qureshi that he must follow party discipline and not issue statements to the media on Davis.

"But Qureshi showed no respect for this directive. He not only held a press conference but also started appearing on talk shows, which has convinced us that he is no longer bothered about the PPP," the leader said.

Addressing the first meeting of his new Cabinet in Islamabad yesterday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the government`s "doors are open to anyone who believes in the party policy and discipline”.

In remarks apparently aimed at Qureshi, he added: "Let`s be guided by party loyalty, not adventurism and playing to the galleries."

Qureshi was also conspicuous by his absence at a meeting of the PPP`s "core committee" or top leadership chaired by Zardari last night.

The PPP leader said though Zardari was not interested in any disciplinary action against Qureshi, it was being assumed in the party ranks that the former minister`s position from now on would be like that of other dissidents such as Nahid Khan and Safdar Abbasi. Qureshi has already ruled out returning to former premier Nawaz Sharif`s PML-N party, which he had quit in the 1990s to join the PPP.

"I will not quit the PPP and remain loyal to it," he said.

But the PPP is not ready to believe his words, leaders said.

"In the coming days, Qureshi will try to capitalise as much as he can on the issue of Davis besides trying to prove he is a true patriot," said another PPP leader who holds an important position in the party.

"Nobody is above the party`s interest. Qureshi is important for the party but not indispensable," the leader quoted Zardari as having said.

He further said: "Qureshi has two options: say sorry to the leadership and stop issuing controversial statements or perish like other detractors of the leadership."

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that Qureshi`s issue was an internal matter of the party.

"I do not want to comment on it in the media but I will give my reaction to it in party meetings," he said, adding that the government and the PPP were on the same page on Davis` issue.

Davis was arrested in Lahore on January 27 after he shot and killed two men he claimed were trying to rob him. Police have rejected his claim of acting in self defence and charged him with murder.

Pakistani leaders, fearing a backlash on the issue due to growing anti-American sentiments, have rebuffed repeated US demands to free Davis on grounds of diplomatic immunity and insisted that his case will be decided by the courts.