Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif met tonight kickstarting efforts to stitch a coalition government in Pakistan as key differences over approach to judiciary and fate of President Pervez Musharraf cast a shadow on the crucial talks between the opposition leaders.
Hours before the meeting at Zardari House in the heart of Islamabad, Sharif, chief of PML-N stepped up pressure on Zardari, co-chairman of PPP, to accede to his party's demand for the reinstatement of deposed judges, joining hundreds of protesting lawyers and vowing to restore deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to the Supreme Court.
Meeting face to face for the first time after the ruling PML-Q that backs Musharraf was roundly defeated at the recent parliamentary polls, Zardari and Sharif, once bitter rivals, are expected to push for a "national consensus government" that will also include smaller parties like ANP and MQM.
PPP, which emerged as the single largest party with 87 seats and Sharif's PML-N together have 153 seats with votes counted in 258 out of 272 constituences.
Ahead of his parleys with Zardari, Sharif was elected leader of the PML-N's parliamentary party even though he had not contested the polls. He was also authorised by the PML-N's central working committee to hold talks on government formation.
The PML-N has made reinstating the deposed judges a key condition for joining any coalition even though Sharif has conceded that the PPP has the right to form government after emerging the largest party in the February 18 polls.
In the morning, Zardari met Pashtun leader Asfandyar Wali Khan, whose Awami National Party (ANP) has emerged a key player by winning 10 National Assembly seats in the North West Frontier Province.