Profile: Raja Pervez Ashraf

Image caption,
Mr Ashraf has faced corruption allegations for years

Most observers predicted that Raja Pervez Ashraf's term as Pakistan's prime minister would be a troubled one when he replaced Yousuf Raza Gilani in June 2012.

His task was to lead the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) into general elections, now due in May, at a time when the civilian government, the judiciary and the powerful military were at loggerheads.

Before then he faces a court battle over corruption charges after a warrant for his arrest was issued on 15 January.

Like many Pakistani politicians Mr Ashraf is dogged by allegations of corruption, which is endemic in the country.

Critics call him "Raja Rental" because of the kickbacks he is alleged to have taken while water and power minister, a post he left in 2011. He denies the claims.

Political family

Mr Ashraf is a senior figure in the party and has twice been a minister in the PPP-led government, which has been in power since 2008.

He comes from the town of Gujjar Khan, about an hour's drive from the capital, Islamabad.

But his parents owned agricultural land in the town of Sanghar in the southern province of Sindh, where he was born in 1950. He graduated from Sindh University in 1970.

He speaks fluent Sindhi, considering himself half Sindhi, and has gelled well with the predominantly Sindhi leadership of the PPP.

He comes from a political family. One of his uncles served as a minister in the cabinet of military ruler, Ayub Khan, in the 1960s.

After completing his education, Mr Ashraf moved back to Gujjar Khan and tried to set up a shoe factory with his brothers. The business did not do well, and he shifted to property and that business is said to have flourished.

He has been active in national politics since 1988, and has acted as an important contact point for the PPP leadership in the Rawalpindi region, where Gujjar Khan is located.

He contested but lost parliamentary elections in 1990, 1993 and 1997, but won in 2002 and 2008.

In 2008, he was sworn in as water and power minister in the cabinet of Mr Gilani.

He presided over controversial deals under the Rental Power Projects (RPP) scheme, which was aimed at boosting electricity generation at a time when power cuts were becoming frequent.

His repeated promises to end power shortages remained unfulfilled, and were made the butt of jokes in the Pakistani media.

Subsequently, charges of kickbacks were brought against him and others in the RPP deals. He denies those charges, although an investigation by the National Accountability (NAB) is still continuing.

Die-hard loyalist?

Due to all the negative publicity he attracted, he was dropped from the cabinet in a reshuffle in February 2011, although he returned some months later as minister for information technology.

After his nomination as the next prime minister became apparent, the country's largest English language daily, Dawn, referred to him in a banner headline as "Rental Raja", a reference to his apparent failures as the power minister.

But the investigation into the power projects has not been his only challenge as prime minister.

The Supreme Court has been pressing the government to ask the Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case against President Asif Zardari.

It was Mr Gilani's failure to abide by the court's wishes that led to his disqualification.

Mr Ashraf's government chose to comply with the court order and wrote to the Swiss authorities in November, withdrawing a 2007 request for investigations into Mr Zardari to be halted. But it remains unclear whether the case against Mr Zardari will be reopened by Switzerland.

Mr Ashraf may have given ground in that battle, and how he responds to the arrest order remains to be seen - but he is likely to put up a fight.

Correspondents say the general belief is that President Zardari would never choose a person for the top government slot who was not a die-hard PPP loyalist.