Even as he grapples with a serious political crisis,Pakistan’s beleaguered President Asif Ali Zardari suffered a major blow today with one of his close aides,Information Minister Sherry Rehman,resigning due to differences over government’s handling of the media.
Sources close to Rehman,a former journalist and a close aide of slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto,said she submitted her resignation after some leaders of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party suggested that restrictions should be imposed on media coverage of the ongoing nationwide protest by lawyers and opposition parties.
Already facing heat from the US,UK and the Pakistan army to defuse the simmering political crisis,Zardari came under fresh attack from his one-time ally,Nawaz Sharif who accused him of “fighting democracy” and blamed his actions for the current unrest.
Pushed to the wall,the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) offered to hold talks with all political parties to restore normalcy in Pakistan.
After a meeting of federal ministers and PPP leaders jointly presided over by Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani,party spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said the meeting “reiterated the offer to the political forces in the country to negotiate with the government on how best to implement the provisions of the Charter of Democracy in letter and in spirit and to restore political normalcy”.
At the meeting some leaders proposed curbs on the media which were opposed by Rehman who put in her papers after the meeting. However,Gilani has not yet accepted the resignation,said sources close to Rehman.
There was no official word on Rehmans resignation. The report of Rehmans resignation broke shortly after Geo News,Pakistans leading Urdu news broadcaster,claimed it had been blacked out from cable networks across the country on the orders of Zardari. The Presidential spokesman dismissed the channels claim.
The sources quoted Rehman as telling Zardari during the meeting that the government had persistently refused to take her advice on her own ministry and the handling of the media.
She also said the government had been acting contrary to what she thought was right,the sources said.
An upset Zardari said Rehman was ditching the government at a time of crisis,but she replied that she saw no point in continuing in her post,the sources said. Rehman also told the President that the media could not be switched on and off like a light bulb,the sources said.
The sources said Rehman was unlikely to take back her resignation unless the government made amends in its policies related to the media. There had been reports for some time that Rehman and several other ministers from the PPP were upset with the functioning of the government and the President.
Rehman had also opposed recent suggestions by security agencies that a code of conduct should be framed for the media for covering militancy-hit regions like the northwestern Swat valley and the tribal areas.
I can assure you that no instruction has been issued either by President Zardari or by the government to block any private channel,Babar told reporters.
During the meeting of top PPP leaders and federal ministers,differences emerged on how the government should handle the media coverage of the long march launched by the lawyers movement and PML-N to pressure the PPP to reinstate judges sacked during the 2007 emergency. Zardari was unhappy over the coverage of the point of view of the lawyers movement and opposition parties. Some PPP leaders and ministers then proposed imposing restrictions on the media but this was opposed by Rehman.
An internet group backing the long march too sent out an email listing Rehmans personal mobile phone numbers and urged people to call or SMS her to ask her to resign for curbs being imposed on the media.
The PPP has also been hit by growing dissent within the party over Zardaris actions. Senior PPP leader Raza Rabbani resigned this week as the Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination after Zardari got his confidant and former lawyer Farooq Naek elected as Chairman of the Senate or upper house of parliament. Naek was earlier Law Minister.