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Truce but threat still looms over coalition

Pakistan’s ruling combine that seemed to be floundering on the rocks after PML chief Nawaz Sharif’s pull-out threat, has earned a reprieve, reports Vinod Sharma. Whats next for Pak

world Updated: Aug 23, 2008 01:09 IST
Vinod Sharma

Pakistan’s ruling combine that seemed to be floundering on the rocks after Pakistan Muslim League (PML) chief Nawaz Sharif’s pull-out threat, has earned a reprieve. It now has a fresh deadline to break the logjam over restoration of judges dismissed under emergency powers by former President Pervez Musharraf.

The truce brokered by the coalition’s smaller parties, Asfandyar Wali’s Awami National Party (ANP) and Fazlur Rahman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), came amid the Election Commission’s announcement of Presidential elections on September 6 in which PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari could be a candidate. Zardari hasn’t revealed his mind yet on the party’s desire to see him elevated to the Presidency.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman said his name was proposed at the meeting by Makhdoom Amin Faheem, who had turned a quasi-rebel on being discarded from the prime ministerial race after the February 18 polls.

The deal to end the impasse over sacked judges entails passage of a parliamentary resolution followed by an executive order for their reinstatement. “Wednesday (August 27) should be the day for it,” PML chief Nawaz Sharif said after talks with the mediating leaders in Islamabad.

The coalition will work on the resolution over the weekend. It will be introduced in Parliament on Monday for a two-day debate after which the government will notify the judges’ return.

The judges’ issue is a major sticking point between the PPP and the PML who failed to strike common ground in their earlier three attempts.

At the core of the dispute are Zardari’s fears of an activist judiciary led by the dismissed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — whose restoration he opposed under what’s known as “all (Judges) minus one” formula.

The ANP-JUI roadmap enables continuation of the sitting judges — identified with Musharraf — after the return of those he sent home late last year. Sources privy to the deal spoke of a constitutional amendment to increase the number of judges.

At the same time, “administration of justice” and exercise of suo motu (discretionary) powers would be vested in a committee of judges under the Chief Justice. If it comes about, the panel system will mark a departure from the earlier practice of the Chief’s supremacy in such matters. “The proposed committee will address the PPP’s worries. It will safeguard the Court process from being hijacked by any one Judge (read Iftikhar Chaudhry),” sources close to Fazlur Rahman told HT.

For its part, the PPP’s Central Executive Committee met later in the day to authorise Zardari to deal with the judges’ case and formalise the candidature, preferably his own, for the President’s office.

If Zardari opts out, the mantle might fall on PPP’s senior leader from Sindh and former Defence Minister Aftab Shabaan Mirani or the ANP’s Asfandyar Wali.

As Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is from Punjab, the new President will have to be from another province in the interest of regional balance.

If at all, Wali’s nomination will be a major goodwill gesture towards NWFP, the epicenter of the global war against terror that has provoked retributive strikes across Pakistan by Taliban and the Al Qaeda. The last that one saw was at a military installation at Wah.