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Sharif, Zardari in crisis talks over Pakistani judges

Latest update : 2008-05-01

Coalition partners Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari held last-ditch talks in Dubai on Wednesday to try to break a deadlock over the reinstatement of Pakistan's sacked judges. (Report: J. Creedon)

DUBAI/ISLAMABAD, April 30 (Reuters) - Pakistan’s key coalition parties have made progress in talks to save the month-old government, but they have more issues to iron out on Thursday, a senior minister said on Wednesday.


Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rushed to Dubai for the talks after aides failed to settle differences with Asif Ali Zardari over reinstating judges that President Pervez Musharraf deposed during a period of emergency rule six months ago.


Some officials of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML (N), have hinted their ministers could quit Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s cabinet over the issue.


Any coalition cracks would heighten concern that nuclear-armed Pakistan, a U.S. ally under Musharraf, will suffer prolonged political instability at a time of challenges from Islamist militants and acute economic problems.


“A lot of progress has been made ... There is consensus on most issues but difference of opinion on some legal and constitutional matters,” Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, a senior minister and close aide to Sharif, told reporters in Dubai.


Having defeated Musharraf’s allies in a parliamentary poll in February, Zardari, who succeeded his late wife Benazir Bhutto as head of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), forged a post-election alliance with Sharif.


When they sealed their alliance, Sharif and Zardari vowed the PPP-led government would within a month of being sworn in pass a resolution in parliament to bring back 60 judges.


That deadline passed on Wednesday, with Zardari in Dubai where he went last weekend to see his daughters.


“The fact of the matter is that a final decision on the issue will be made tomorrow and I can say that very categorically,” Khan said at an upmarket hotel in Dubai, a UAE emirate, where the talks were held.


Sharif, overthrown by Musharraf in 1999, wants the judges to be reinstated immediately as part of a strategy to drive Musharraf from office.


The PPP leadership wants to avoid an early confrontation with Musharraf. It also harbours reservations about some judges, notably Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Supreme Court Chief Justice whose defiance of Musharraf last year galvanised the opposition.


The PPP wants to link reinstatement of the judiciary to a constitutional reform package that will include measures to shorten the tenure of senior judges.


Under such a formula, Chaudhry could be reinstated with honour and then immediately packed off to retirement.


The alliance between the PPP and PML-N marked the first time Pakistan’s two mainstream parties have come together to assert civilian rule in a country that has been run by generals like Musharraf for more than half the 61 years since its formation.


Optimism over the political outlook after the February vote had helped the Karachi stock market hit a record high on April 21, but the index <.KSE> has since lost over three percent as investors registered worry over the deadlock on the judges.


A week ago Sharif said rivals hoping the coalition would split would be disappointed. The PPP leadership has clearly calculated Sharif will not go to the brink over the judges.


“We’re optimistic of a positive outcome,” Zardari’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar said.


Analysts say the PPP is cautious about restoring Chaudhry because last October he had admitted legal challenges to a pardon that Musharraf granted Bhutto and Zardari to allow them to return to Pakistan without fear of prosecution in a slew of graft cases they maintained were politically motivated.

Date created : 2008-05-01