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Pakistan hunts for a coalition government

world Updated: Feb 21, 2008 02:54 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times
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PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has expressed his willingness to work with other parties, particularly the Nawaz League, and even the MQM, in forming a national government.

Addressing a press conference after a meeting of party leaders on Wednesday, he made it evident that the “other parties” would not include the Q League, or the “king’s party” which lost heavily in the elections. Though the MQM was known for its proximity to President Pervez Musharraf, Zardari said he was willing to work with it.

Musharraf’s future as President would be decided by parliament whose sovereignty was the PPP’s main agenda. On his meeting with PML (N) chief Nawaz Sharif on Thursday, the PPP boss said, “The agenda is always political and mutual. We will try and find a solution to the problems of Pakistan.”

Zardari was non-committal on the PPP’s prime ministerial candidate though the previously announced nominee, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, sat by his side. “There is no division in the party (on this issue). We will decide the matter in the central executive committee.”

Much will depend therefore on the Zardari-Sharif duo’s ability to work together in a complex scenario. “They shouldn’t let Musharraf’s presidency become a sticking point in the formation of a PPP-PML(N) coalition,” remarked well-known scholar Ashfaq Mirza.

Sharif’s electoral gains in Punjab came largely from his up front stand against the President and for the restoration of the dismissed judiciary, including former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary.

In contrast, the PPP’s choice will be easier, refrain as it did, unlike the Nawaz League, from a cut and dried approach to issues threatening to delay, if not scuttle, government-formation at the Centre and in the provinces. Prospects of a modus vivendi haven’t faded because Sharif thus far has stonewalled questions about Musharraf’s impeachment.

Besides running the risk of turning the new regime into an international pariah, Sharif’s position on Lal Masjid could upset China, a time-tested friend of Pakistan, and potential allies such as the Awami National Party (ANP) whose leader Asfandyar Wali has made a commitment to fight terrorism a pre-requisite for joining the envisioned coalition.

“Winning elections isn’t an end in itself. It needs to be backed by statesmanship and a spirit of accommodation to set up a lasting government,” said Mustansar Javed, a popular Urdu columnist. In his view, the PPP-PML-N combine should avoid confronting the President at the very outset: “They must first consolidate their electoral gains by reaching out to smaller parties for a robust majority in the House,” he said.

Commentators here have painted scenarios that could emerge in the run up to government formation: A PPP-PML (N) accord that’s a precursor to agreements with smaller parties; the PPP teaming up with the MQM, the ANP and the PML-Q rump whose final tally could hover around 40 and the Nawaz League seeking to gobble up the Q faction as part of an anti-Musharraf rag-tag arrangement.

But the coming together of the PPP and the N-League alone can deliver a durable coalition carrying conviction with the people. All other scenarios would be a betrayal of popular trust, providing the mainline parties’ detractors an early excuse to take to the streets. In that event, the Presidency will call the shots on the strength of its powers to send the government packing.