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Context of 'August 23, 2008: Pakistani Prime Minister Gillani Publicly Opposes US Drone Strikes, Privately Allows Them'

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President Musharraf swearing in Yousaf Raza Gillani as Pakistan’s latest prime minister.President Musharraf swearing in Yousaf Raza Gillani as Pakistan’s latest prime minister. [Source: Agence France-Presse - Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)In parliamentary elections in February 2008, a coalition of opposition parties led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) took effective political control from President Pervez Musharraf, although Musharraf remains president (see February 18, 2008). On March 22, the leader of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, picks Yousaf Raza Gillani to become Pakistan’s new prime minister. Gillani assumes the position in a ceremony on March 25. Zardari is the husband of the recently assassinated and very popular Benazir Bhutto. He reportedly wants the prime minister position for himself, but he is not yet eligible for it as he does not hold a seat in parliament. Gillani is a relatively unknown low-key party stalwart. The New York Times comments that Gillani’s selection seems a “prelude to a drive by Mr. Zardari to take the job himself in the next few months.” (Perlez 3/23/2008) Within hours of becoming prime minister, Gillani frees the judges that had been placed under house arrest during Musharraf’s state of emergency several months before (see November 3-December 15, 2007). He frees Supreme Court head Iftikhar Chaudhry, the 13 other Supreme Court judges, and 48 High Court judges who refused to sign a loyalty oath. (Masood 3/25/2008)

US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson sends a diplomatic cable back to the US reporting on recent discussions she had with Pakistani leaders. In the cable, she discusses a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. The issue of when the next US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region would be politically feasible came up. According to the cable, Gillani said: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” The cable will later be released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. (Ahmed 12/1/2010; Dawn (Karachi) 12/2/2010)

On a visit to London, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani says he thinks Osama bin Laden is not in Pakistan. The statement is made against a background of Western demands that Afghanistan and Pakistan take more action against militants, including stepping up their efforts to find bin Laden, to accompany the surge in Western troops to Afghanistan. “I doubt the information which you are giving is correct because I don’t think Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan,” says Gillani in response to a question. The New York Times observes, “The Pakistani leader did not indicate where Mr. bin Laden might be if he is not in Pakistan.” (Burns and Cowell 12/3/2009) The next day, the BBC will run an article brokered by a Pakistani intelligence service in which a detainee claims he recently received information bin Laden was in Afghanistan (see Before December 4, 2009). Gillani’s statement is not accurate (see May 2, 2011).


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