PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has not committed himself to the May 12 deadline set by his coalition partner PML-N for reinstating judges sacked by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, sparking speculation that their differences on the issue are yet to be resolved.
Following two days of talks with Zardari in Dubai, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif on Friday announced in Lahore that the deposed judges will be restored through a parliamentary resolution on May 12.
However, Zardari told Aaj TV channel that a committee of legal experts set up to finalise the resolution for the judges would decide the matter "as soon as possible".
Evading a direct reply to a question whether the judges will be restored on the date set by Sharif, he said: "Ask the question about reinstatement of the judges on May 12 with the committee. It will try and resolve it as soon as possible."
The Pakistan People's Party co-chairman's comments were in line with a statement by Law Minister Farooq Naek, who said there was no cause for worry if the May 12 deadline passed because of lack of consensus among all the stakeholders.
Naek told reporters the deposed judges may not necessarily be restored by May 12. The committee of legal experts, of which Naek is the convenor, will decide whether an executive order or a new legislation will follow the parliamentary resolution to reinstate the judges, he said.
But Naek also said the committee might not reach a consensus by May 12 and would forward the matter to Zardari and Sharif if it did not reach a decision.
Zardari said the reinstatement of the deposed judges is "a problem" and a formula should be worked out for this. He also said that providing food and shelter to the people were more important issues than the judges' reinstatement.
"We are committed to the Murree Declaration and want a solution that would disturb none of the judges. If we are firm on our objectives no conspiracy could succeed against us," he said, referring to the agreement signed by the PPP and PML-N in March on restoring the judges.
Though PPP and PML-N leaders have been insisting that talks held by the two parties in Dubai had succeeded in resolving their differences on the reinstatement of the judges, Zardari's comments have caused consternation in political circles.
His comments also came against the backdrop of consultations between the presidency and the opposition PML-Q regarding the role to be played by parties aligned with Musharraf in case the PML-N pulled out of the ruling coalition over the issue of the judges' restoration.
Sources said there were still some differences on the reinstatement of the judges even though the PML-N had even agreed to the PPP's demand that the current members of the superior judiciary, who have sworn an oath of allegiance to Musharraf, should be retained even after the return of the deposed judges.
Law Minister Naek pointed out that the strength of the Supreme Court would increase to 27 judges if the deposed judges are reinstated.
This would require a constitutional amendment which would have to be passed by the two houses of Parliament and signed by the president, he said.
The restoration of the judges was one of the main issues of the PML-N's election campaign and the party has made it clear it is unwilling to compromise on it.