07/31/2013, 00.00
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Paul Bhatti: new president must guarantee minority safety, involvement

Former Catholic minister appeals to Mamnoon Hussain, who was elected yesterday as Pakistan's new president. Violence is up as evinced by the recent Taliban attack on a prison that led to escape of scores of dangerous extremists. For Bhatti, without minorities Pakistan cannot build "peace and prosperity".

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Our "main concern" is "security", an unsolved problem that "in fact, has worsened" in recent weeks, said Paul Bhatti, former Minister for National Harmony and president of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) in an appeal to newly elected President Mamnoon Hussain.

A businessman from Sindh, backed by the now ruling PML-N party and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Hussain was elected to the presidency yesterday by an overwhelming majority, but with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) boycotting the vote.

"We are concerned about ongoing acts of violence," Bhatti told AsiaNews, because "without peace, other problems, including terrorism and the economic crisis afflicting the country, cannot be solved. Without harmony, it is impossible to develop the nation."

The country's safety was sorely tested on the eve of the election when the Taliban attacked a prison and a hospital, killing and wounding scores of people.

Hundreds of fighters stormed a prison in Dera Ismail Khan, central Pakistan, that held hundreds of extremists. Twelve people were killed and 243 prisoners escaped. So far, Pakistani security forces have recaptured 45 escapees, but the country remains on high alert as the hunt for the terrorists continues.

In this climate of growing tension, the presidential election was held yesterday. As expected, a member of the ruling party, Mamnoon Hussain, won.

Born to an industrialist family in 1940 in the Indian city of Agra, he and his family settled in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province, one of Pakistan's four provinces, where they set up a textile business.

A veteran member of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), he held the post of governor of the province of Sindh for four months in 1999, but has never been a prominent figure in the national political landscape.

Voting took place yesterday with Members of Parliament and the four provincial assemblies-Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan-picking the new head of state.

Hussain received 432 votes; retired Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed, who was the candidate for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former cricketer Irman Khan, won 77 votes.

The new president will replace Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, whose five-year term expires on 8 September.

He rose to power as head of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) after his wife's murder in December 2007 and is the first president to complete his mandate.

He agreed to a constitutional amendment that transferred many of the president's powers to the prime minister and parliament, leaving a position that is now largely ceremonial. However Zardari was also embroiled in controversy with the military and the judiciary

Speaking to AsiaNews, former Catholic Minister Paul Bhatti said that his greatest concern "is the escalating extremist violence."

At present, what is behind this escalation is unclear; however, the decision by "the main parties to hold a meeting on security without the representatives of minorities is seriously flawed".

In view of this, the APMA president wants the new president to "ensure greater involvement of minorities in the future" because "we are an important part of the country and we want to be consulted."

Despite the PPP's protests and boycott, the presidential election was fair, according to is Paul Bhatti. As to Hussain, "there is nothing especially negative. Now the post is largely ceremonial, representative, weaker than in the past. "

However, the new president will have to "engage minorities" on the path of peace and economic development for Pakistan. (DS)

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