Pakistani expats hope for change

Pakistani expatriates gave a guarded welcome to their president-elect Asif Ali Zadari, with some expressing doubts about his integrity.

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Pakistani expatriates gave a guarded welcome to their president-elect Asif Ali Zadari yesterday, with some expressing doubts about his integrity but others voicing hope that new investment ties with the UAE will help the poorer parts of their homeland. Mr Zadari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December, won a two-thirds majority in a secret ballot among lawmakers on Saturday and is expected to be sworn in today as leader of the world's only nuclear-armed Islamic state.

He has spoken of the importance of Pakistan's ties with the UAE, saying relations are "guarded not only by mutual interests, but also by the religious and historic legacy shared by the two countries, as well as the identical views on several regional and international issues". However, doubts linger among the UAE's 850,000 Pakistani expatriates over whether he will deliver on his promises. Mr Zadari has been plagued by rumours of corruption. He was never convicted, but was held in prison under Gen Pervez Musharraf's rule. "Personally I feel he is a crook," said Shafiq Malik, 50, an education adviser from Rawalpindi, now living in Abu Dhabi. "He has been jailed, he doesn't deserve that position, full stop."

Mr Malik called on the UAE to boost investment in Pakistan, particularly its rural industry. "The UAE should invest in Pakistan, in its industry and raw materials," he said. "They seem to be investing all the way to Sudan. They bought acres in Sudan. They could easily do the same thing in Punjab or Sindh." The Emirates already invests in the capital, Islamabad, but mostly in property. There is even a Sheikh Zayed Road. But expatriates say more rural investment would help the poor.

Asif Iqbal, 36, from the Swat area of Pakistan and now working in Abu Dhabi, said: "They need to invest in other parts of Pakistan, not just high-rise buildings in the 'nice areas' like Islamabad." He also called on Mr Zardari to bring stability. "He has a duty as a man with the power to bring peace. Rather than going in with a heavy hand, which is what his predecessor did, there has to be another way of bringing peace to the table. Terrorism is spreading, it's not being contained in one area."

Mr Iqbal added that the international community could help stop unrest in Pakistan by investing in its economy and to help provide basic needs for the poor, some of whom may turn to terrorism in despair. Neem Baig, office manager at the Pakistan Business Council in Dubai, said a wait-and-see approach was needed before judging Mr Zardari. "The oath has not yet been taken," he said. Mr Zardari takes over a country on the front line of the US-led war on terror, but regularly at the receiving end of violence from Islamic insurgents. Over the weekend, in a stark reminder to such violence, at least 33 people died after a car bomb went off next to a police checkpoint in Peshawar.

One positive Zardari supporter was Riaz Hussain Bukhari, the deputy head of mission at the Pakistani embassy. "We hope he will bring control to the politics of Pakistan. He will build bridges for security in Pakistan and promote democratic culture," he said. "With time things will settle. He has said many times that extremism is the main challenge to democracy. The elections were held in a transparent process and he won a majority in provinces. He will be subservient and he plans to strengthen democracy in Pakistan."