ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistani leaders hoped for an accord Thursday on how to restore judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf after failing to meet a deadline to resolve the dispute that has threatened their month-old coalition government.
Negotiations resumed Thursday afternoon in Dubai. Ahead of the parley, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said his party “wants to continue with the coalition but also wants the judges reinstated.” He also told private GEO television that if this round of talks failed, top party officials would meet to consider options. Sharif’s party has threatened to pull ministers from the Cabinet if the issue drags on, although it has so far said it would remain in the coalition.
A crumbling of the coalition government, which has been easing Musharraf’s military confrontation with Islamic militants, could bring more instability to a country considered key to U.S. goals in the war on terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, the main pro-Musharraf party has said it would start work on its own proposal for restoring the judges to office and consider the possibility of joining a new ruling coalition if the current one breaks apart.
Musharraf purged the Supreme Court in November to stop legal challenges to his continuation as president. Allies of the U.S.-backed leader were routed in February parliamentary elections by the parties that formed the new government.
The new ruling coalition had promised to reinstate the judges by the end of April, but its leaders failed to agree on exactly how as the deadline passed Wednesday.
The larger coalition party, led by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, wants to link the restoration of judges to a proposed package of judicial reforms that could narrow the powers of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and prevent judges from getting involved in politics.
Zardari has accused Chaudhry and other judges of “playing politics” and failing to deliver justice to him during the years he spent in jail on unproven corruption charges.
Sharif has said the parties must honor a pledge to use a parliamentary resolution to restore the judiciary and urged Zardari to “de-link” the resolution from the proposed broader reforms.
Musharraf removed Chaudhry just as the Supreme Court was preparing to rule on the legality of his October election by the previous parliament to a new five-year presidential term. Musharraf accused the chief justice of corruption and conspiring against him and his plans to guide Pakistan back to democracy.
Chaudhry had shown an unusual degree of independence, blocking government privatization deals and investigating complaints that its spy agencies were holding opposition activists secretly under the cover of fighting international terrorism.
Some analysts predict Musharraf might have to quit if Chaudhry is restored and the court revisits the president’s disputed re-election.
But the main pro-Musharraf party, now in the minority, suggested Wednesday that it could join help form a new ruling coalition if Sharif’s party departs. Spokesman Tariq Azeem also said the party would start work on its own resolution aimed at restoring the judiciary, including Chaudhry.
Asked if Musharraf agreed with the intended move, Azeem said “much water has passed under the bridge and the ground reality has now changed.”
As to joining a new ruling coalition, “We cannot rule it out,” Azeem said.