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Sharif threatens to pull out on judges issue

The war of nerves between PML and PPP peaked with the former threatening to withdraw from the coalition if a decision wasn’t reached on Friday on the restoration of the higher judiciary, writes Vinod Sharma.

world Updated: Aug 21, 2008 23:44 IST
Vinod Sharma

The war of nerves between Nawaz Sharif’s PML and Asif Zardari’s PPP peaked on Thursday with the former threatening to withdraw from the coalition if a decision wasn’t reached on Friday on the restoration of the higher judiciary.

“If the judges aren’t restored we will perhaps be forced to sit in the opposition,” Sharif told the Wall Street Journal on the eve of the crucial talks in which the coalition’s lesser partners, the ANP and the JUI, are playing the brokers.

The PML’s threatened action isn’t to bring down the government but to distance itself further from the PPP on the issue on which it withdrew its ministers on May 13 following the expiry of an agreed deadline for reinstating the judges.

The reappointment of judges sacked by then President Pervez Musharraf was the PML’s major electoral plank on which it isn’t inclined to budge. After failing to abide by the first cut off date, Zardari is prevaricating on another pact under which he committed to bring back the judges after Musharraf’s exit.

“We will have no option except sitting in the Opposition if the judge’s aren’t restored. The purpose isn’t to topple the regime but to convey to the people that we stand by our promises,” said PML spokesman Pervez Rashid. “While persisting with our agenda, we aren’t oblivious of our responsibility to strengthen democracy and not allow extra-democratic forces any opportunity to derail the process,” he told HT.

Zardari’s main worry in recalling the judges is over the Musharraf-promulgated National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) under challenge before the Supreme Court. The NRO gave him and his slain wife Benazir Bhutto indemnity from graft charges in the run up to the February 18 polls.

In certain quarters, the PPP-move to install Zardari as President is linked to this dilemma. Pakistan’s Constitution insulates the Presidency from criminal proceedings during his term of office.

Simultaneously, there have been unconfirmed reports of the Nawaz League, as part of a compromise formula, agreeing to accord the controversial NRO a Constitutional veneer to address Zardari’s fears of an “activist” judiciary in the event of the dismissed CJI Iftikhar Chaudhry’s reinstatement.

Sharif said the PPP leader wanted to keep Chaudhry out of the restoration exercise. “But we’ve said it’s not a question of any individual. It’s a question of the institution,” he remarked. “If the judges are not restored, it will be a bad day for democracy,” he remarked.

Coalitions cannot be run without accommodating conflicting viewpoints. But the PML finds it difficult to renege on the issue on which it administered oath to its candidates in the parliamentary polls.

Sharif’s doesn’t also see eye to eye with the PPP on Zardari’s elevation as President. Following Musharraf’s resignation, he unilaterally suggested the Presidency be offered to Balochistan.

By some coincidence, the deposed CJI whom Zardari doesn’t want reinstated is a Punjabi settled in the insurgency-hit province.