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Political rift deepens in Pakistan

Text by Nandita VIJ

Latest update : 2009-07-23

The Pakistan People's Party has nominated its co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari to succeed Musharraf, deepening the rift with coalition partner Nawaz Sharif. Sharif wants a president from a smaller province and for sacked judges to be reinstated.

Former Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, a key coalition member, agreed to a parliamentary debate over the restoration of judges sacked by former President Pervez Musharraf.


Sharif has extended the deadline for the third time in six months for the judges to be reinstated since the new government came to power in February 2008.


Slain leader Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – N (PML-N) have been split over various major issues including the reinstatement of judges, the future of former President Pervez Musharraf, and his successor.


 The PPP and the PML-N have long been bitter political enemies but had agreed to work together to oust Musharraf and restore democracy in the country.


 “We will give the coalition a few more days but the judges should be restored by Wednesday at the latest,” Sharif told FRANCE 24 in a telephone interview on Friday. “The judges should have been reinstated almost five months ago right after the coalition came to power,” he said.


Sharif said the two parties would draft a resolution on restoring the judges and introduce it to parliament on Monday, with a vote on Wednesday.


 Earlier this week, Sharif threatened to quit the coalition if the judges were not restored.


“We made a commitment to the people of Pakistan to restore the judiciary and the sacked judges and this was one the main agreements to form the coalition,” Sharif said in the interview. “If we’re forced to quit we will simply become the opposition in the parliament; we will do nothing to destabilise the current government,” he assured.


“The situation is obviously uncertain and the government could most likely fall,” Pakistani political analyst Retd. Lt.General Talat Masood said in a phone interview from Islamabad. “The two main parties are quite determined to stick to their own agendas; it’s difficult to see them reach an agreement,” Masood added.


According to an unnamed government official and a former Musharraf aide, the sacked judges - including Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary - pose a major threat to the PPP’s co-chairman (and Bhutto’s widower) Asif Ali Zardari and will help revive Sharif’s political future. A Pakistani high court recently barred Sharif from running February’s elections and by-elections due to a former criminal conviction.


 “Chaudhary will overturn an amnesty on corruption charges that allowed Bhutto and Zardari to return from exile – which will obviously ruin (Zardari's) political plans,” the aide commented on condition of anonymity.  “As for Sharif, there has obviously been a deal between the two, the judges could revoke the High Court’s decision,” the official said.



Rift widens over Musharraf’s future and successor?


On Friday, the Pakistan’s People Party unanimously nominated the party’s co-chairmain Asif Ali Zardari to run for president. Slain former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto’s widower is due to announce the decision in the next 24 hours.


The announcement comes shortly after the Pakistani election commission announced a presidential election on September 6 to pick Musharraf’s successor, who resigned earlier this week to avoid impeachment charges.


Meanwhile Sharif, who says he’s not interested in the post, wants the President to be elected from a smaller province.


“There will be a parliamentary vote to elect the new president,” Sharif told FRANCE 24. “A unanimous candidate will be presented for the slot, the PML-N wants someone above party politics,” Sharif added.


The two sides have also been wrangling over former President Musharraf’s future.


Zardari and his party have been pushing for an immunity package for Musharraf in contrast to Sharif, who wants Musharraf tried for violating the constitution.



Militancy on the rise



The current government has failed to tackle the rising militancy in Pakistan amid this political squabble.


On Thursday, twin blasts aimed at a key Pakistani arms factory killed more than 60 workers and injured dozens. The attack was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.


This was the second attack four days after Musharraf’s resignation.


Thursday’s blasts came two days after a suicide bomber attacked a hospital in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday, killing at least 30 people.


“These attacks are in response to the rising military operations in the tribal zones of the North Western Frontier Provinces,” said Talat Masood. “The militants are taking advantage of the weak government, the political instability, and their message is quite clear: if the military operations don’t stop, the country will be hit hard,” he said.


Date created : 2008-08-22