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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

US attacks overshadow swearing-in of Asif Ali Zardari

Bruce Loudon, South Asia correspondent in Islamabad September 10, 2008
TWO black goats were ritually slaughtered yesterday "to do away with the shadow of evil" as a solemn Asif Ali Zardari pledged himself to "humility and paucity" and took the reins of power in Pakistan.
With a copy of the Koran held above his head, the 53-year-old widower of Benazir Bhutto, surrounded by family, said his first foreign initiative would be to go to China next week to seal a nuclear trade deal like the one between New Delhi and the US.
As he moved into the white marble Awan-i-Sadr (People's House) presidential palace that dominates the Islamabad skyline, Mr Zardari patted the goats before they were slaughtered.
The swearing-in of Mr Zardari as Pakistan's 14th president was frequently interrupted by cries of "Jiye Bhutto" ("Long live Bhutto") and was dominated by large portraits of his assassinated wife and her hanged father, former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
His wife's younger sister Sanam was in tears as she sat beside Mr Zardari's three teenage children.
The day was clouded by a US strike on al-Qa'ida figures inside Pakistan, which angered a Government that is sensitive about sovereignty.
The strike in militant-infested North Waziristan reportedly killed three leading al-Qa'ida figures.
It was part of a strategy that empowers US forces to "locate, target and kill" key individuals in al-Qa'ida, regardless of protests from the Government in Islamabad, which described the latest assault as "a gross violation of our sovereignty".
The al-Qa'ida figures were identified as Hamza Arabi, Qasim Hamza and Musa Arabi. All three are believed to have been Arabs who were among a number of foreigners based in the compound of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran militant who is a former minister in Afghanistan's Taliban Government and who is regarded as close to Osama bin Laden.
Jalaluddin was said to be absent at the time of the strike.
Up to 23 bodies had been recovered from the compound, according to reports.
At the swearing-in, Mr Zardari wore a dark business suit, rather than the sherwani black frock coat traditionally worn by Pakistani presidents.
He took the oath of office in English, rather than Urdu, the national language.
He appeared reserved and quiet as he recited the oath of office from Chief Justice Hameed Dogar, pledging to carry out his function honestly and with integrity.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan attended the swearing-in.
Present to salute Mr Zardari as new commander-in-chief were ranks of senior officers of the Pakistan armed forces, all of them close confidants of ousted former military dictator Pervez Musharraf.
There was political meaning in Mr Zardari's decision to be sworn in by Mr Dogar, who was appointed by Mr Musharraf. Sources said this act appeared to endorse Mr Dogar over Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice sacked by Mr Musharraf and the figurehead of a lawyers' movement that fought to have Mr Chaudhry and other sacked judges reinstated.
Members of Nawaz Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), attended the swearing-in but Mr Sharif was not present.
Mr Zardari said a nuclear pact with China was aimed at dealing with Pakistan's power shortages.
China was said to be open to such an agreement.

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