The leaders of the opposition PPP and PML-N, which swept Pakistan's general election, are set to meet on Thursday for discussions on forming a government and to resolve their differences on contentious issues like the reinstatement of judges deposed during last year's emergency.
PML-N chief and former premier Nawaz Sharif has made it clear that he will not compromise on reinstating the judges sacked last year for not endorsing the emergency proclaimed by President Pervez Musharraf.
PML-N sources said Sharif had made this and the rolling back of other actions taken by Musharraf during the emergency rule as pre-conditions for backing any government formed by the Pakistan People's Party, which emerged as the single largest group in the parliamentary polls.
PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, who faces the possibility of a law giving him amnesty against graft charges being scrapped if the deposed judges are reinstated, has so far only committed himself to ensuring the independence and autonomy of the judiciary.
Zardari and his slain wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, returned to Pakistan after Musharraf issued the National Reconciliation Ordinance that led to the withdrawal of graft charges against them. Several petitions challenging the validity of the NRO are currently pending in the Supreme Court.
An anti-corruption court on Wednesday adjourned hearing of Zardari's petitions on withdrawing graft cases against him till the apex court decided on the validity of the NRO. At the same time, the Pakistan government on Wednesday urged a Swiss court to prosecute Zardari for allegedly stashing 60 million Swiss francs in that country.
The President's camp is reportedly pressuring Zardari to develop a "working relationship" with Musharraf though the PPP is reluctant to make any commitments, The News quoted a source close to the Presidency as saying.
The source said Musharraf had "warned" the PPP that it had no choice but to cooperate as otherwise the NRO might be scrapped and "Zardari could be arrested".
Asked at a news conference on Wednesday if he would be willing to work with Musharraf, Zardari said the fate of the President would be decided by the new parliament. Sharif, on the other hand, has ruled out working with Musharraf.
Against this backdrop, the top leadership of the PPP and PML-N will meet on Thursday before a meeting between Sharif and Zardari in the evening.
The meeting is also expected to be attended by Asfandyar Wali Khan, chief of the Awami National Party that has emerged as a key player by sweeping polls in the North West Frontier Province.
Sharif has said the PPP has the right to set up the government in the centre. "The PML-N's central executive committee will decide about cooperation with the PPP," he said.
With Zardari ruling himself out for the post of prime minister, the PPP will also have to choose a candidate for the slot. The names currently doing the rounds in the party are vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the president of the Punjab wing of the PPP, and Yusuf Raza Gillani.