Pakistan's ex-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi attends a public meeting in the southern town of Ghotki. -AFP Photo

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's ex-foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi joined forces with cricketer-politician Imran Khan Sunday, becoming the most high-profile defector to his growing campaign to win the next general election.

Qureshi made the announcement at a rally led by Khan in the southern town of Ghotki, part of the broad hinterland in the southern province of Sindh and central province of Punjab where the former minister is considered powerful.

“I announce I am joining a movement, which is struggling to win justice for people,” Qureshi said of Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice) which is fast emerging as a powerful player in the run-up to elections due early 2013.

Qureshi lost his position as cabinet minister in a February reshuffle. He was offered another portfolio, which he refused, and this month resigned as lawmaker representing the main ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

“Winds of change have now begun,” Qureshi told the rally attended by several thousand supporters 420 kilometres (260 miles) north of Karachi, Pakistan's port city used by the US to ship supplies to landlocked Afghanistan.

“I am embarking on a new journey and from today onwards, Shah Mehmood is part of your team,” he told Khan to thunderous applause.

Qureshi fell out with President Asif Ali Zardari around the time of the reshuffle and says he withstood pressure to approve diplomatic immunity for a CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis in Lahore in January.

He used the rally to criticise Zardari, whose five-year mandate expires in 2013, a day after Pakistan was plunged into fresh crisis with the US over accusations that Nato air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border.

“They have indulged in loot and plunder,” he said. “The time has come to seek a fresh mandate from the people,” Qureshi added.

Khan, a staunch critic of the US alliance, condemned the Nato strike and demanded that Pakistan order all CIA agents to leave in protest.

“We should raise the issue at the UN Security Council because it was an attack on our country and soldiers,” he said.

“We need not bow before any one. The time has come to build a new Pakistan by introducing a new system reflecting will of the people.”

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