The chances of Pakistan’s largest coalition partners, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) parting ways grew more pronounced on Sunday, as talks between their senior leaders failed to reach any consensus on the thorny issue of whether the judges who had been removed by President Pervez Musharraf should be reinstated or not.
Even the intervention of US Secretary of State Richard Boucher failed to break the impasse.
The deadline for restoring the judges to their former position is May 12.
PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari claimed that both parties agreed that the judges should be reinstated; the differences only related to the procedure to be adopted while doing so. In an interview to a news channel he added that while there was “an element of weakness” in the ruling coalition, it would not fall apart since no one wanted another election soon.
All through Sunday morning and afternoon, Rahman Malik, adviser to the Pakistan prime minister on internal security, Hussain Haqqani, ambassador designate to the US, Shabaz Sharif, Sharif’s brother and president of PML-N, and Khwaja Asif, petroleum minister, kept up discussion in a last desperate attempt to save the coalition. It was not clear whether Sharif and Zardari actually met, or only spoke on the telephone.
Sharif had made it clear on Saturday that if, by May 12, the PPP did not honour the promise it had made in the Bhurban Declaration to reinstate the judges, the PML-N would walk out of the coalition government.
But he also hastened to add that a decision on whether or not to withdraw would be taken at a meeting of his party’s central working committee in Islamabad on Monday. The PML-N would also decide whether it would remain on the treasury benches or shift to the opposition.
Sharif left for Islamabad on Sunday evening.