Pakistani Cabinet reshuffle may be too little, too late to quell opposition
Pakistan's president, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, has expanded and rearranged his Cabinet to give it a civilian majority. But the move may be too little, too late to arrest spreading political ferment in his country.
His action, intended to blunt the growing demand for free elections, has come just as Pakistan's major, opposition parties have united against him for the first time since he imposed military rule in July 1977.
Restoration of democracy was one of the objectives Zia set for the new Cabinet. He also promised to install an appointed federal advisory council in lieu of an elected parliament.
Zia repeated a pledge to hold elections at an "appropriate time," but he has twice canceled promised national elections and repeatedly stated that the appropriate moment is not yet in sight.
The announcement of the mixed civilian and military Cabinet came against the backdrop of the world's longest-lasting hijack drama to date, now being played out at the Damascus airport.
Pakistani hijackers who have been holding a Pakistan international airlines plane and more than 100 hostages since March 2, first in Kabul and now in Damascus, are demanding the release of political prisoners from the martial law regime's jails.
Authorities in Pakistan have charged that Murtaza Bhutto, son of executed former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, boarded the plane in Kabul and is directing the hijacking. Bhutto's widow Nusrat and daughter Benazir were arrested in a weekend wave of detentions of political figures, although government officials denied that the arrests were related to the hijacking.
Mrs. Bhutto leads the banned Pakistan People's Party, the most formidable of the nine opposition parties, swallowed their past political differences to band together in early February as the "movement for the restoration of democracy."