The ruling coalition in Pakistan led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has suffered a major setback as another of its key ally, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), decided to part ways with the government.
"The reservations of the party have not been addressed and we are forced to make a decision to go our own way," MQM legislator Haider Abbas Rizvi told Samaa TV.
The MQM's decision comes just a week after Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), withdrew from the government after Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked Jamiat's Azam Swati, who was minister for science and technology, from his cabinet.
MQM lawmaker Haider Abbas Rizvi told Samaa TV that in the first phase, two federal ministers Farooq Sattar and Babar Khan Ghori, will offer their resignations to the prime minister.
The MQM last week set a 10-day deadline for the government to clarify a statement of Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza, who had accused MQM of extortion and target-killing in Karachi.
An MQM delegation called on President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani and both assured it of a favourable response. But the party decided to go ahead with the resignations at the end of the deadline when nothing concrete emerged.
"We are not going to apply for opposition benches as yet and will wait and see before making the next move," said MQM leader Wasay Jaleel.
"If things don't improve, we may decide to leave the coalition altogether in the centre and the Sindh province," he said.
JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman on December 21 submitted resignations of four other ministers of his party and withdrew support to the government.
Federal minister and PPP leader Khurshid Shah said the government wants to take all allies along and the ruling party would assess the situation before giving a formal reaction.
Meanwhile, Zardari is believed to have asked Interior Minister Rehman Malik to play an interlocutor and the president is expected to reach Karachi shortly and establish contact with the MQM, reports said.
The divided mandate in the national assembly had forced the PPP to form a coalition government with the MQM (25), the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (6) and the Awami National Party (13). Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz Sharif) has 90 members, and Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid) has 51.
The exit of the two partners may affect the PPP's number game and it will be difficult for Gilani to take a vote of confidence in parliament.
"The allies have kept a window open for return if the government mends its ways. However, the gulf between the ruling party and its allies is likely to widen in the coming days because the government has not shown any signs of retreating from its hostile stand," political analyst Irfan Siddiqui told Geo TV.
Now, all eyes are on former premier Nawaz Sharif, chief of opposition PML-N, who holds the numerical strength to derail the government if he joins hands with another powerful group. However, he is playing a waiting game and has said that he "will not be part of any undemocratic move".