PM cancels trip to Europe

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has canceled visits starting this month to Europe, the foreign ministry said, a move which could intensify media speculation that pressure is mounting for a change in government.

The government’s perceived poor handling of summer floods has raised questions over political stability in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country fighting homegrown Taliban insurgents which the U.S. regards as vital to efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

“In view of his pre-occupations with the post-flood situation, the Prime Minister has decided not to go ahead with his scheduled visits to Paris and Brussels,” said a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman in a statement.

“(The) Prime Minister’s official visit to France is being re-scheduled.”

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will lead Pakistan’s delegation to the Asia-Europe summit in Brussels next month, said the statement.

Pakistani leaders have said the government has done its best to help flood victims given its limited resources and have appealed for international aid to help with reconstruction.

The military has taken the lead in relief and rescue efforts, reinforcing the view that it’s Pakistan’s most decisive and efficient institution in times of crises.

Those dynamics have raised questions in the Pakistani media and elsewhere about the fate of the civilian government.

“No one knows if Gilani decided at the spur of the moment to cancel his visit, or he was advised not to travel abroad in the face of the urgency the government is facing because of the floods and the pressure for a change in government,” said an article in Pakistan’s The News on Saturday.

The newspaper has been outspoken against several Pakistani governments over the years.

Gilani’s press secretary, Shabbir Anwar, said he had been scheduled to leave at the end of this month for Paris with a delegation of 40 other officials to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy and then travel from there on Oct 1 to Brussels.

Instead Gilani decided to stay behind and the size of the delegation was reduced to save on expenses after the floods.