ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf may accept the reinstatement of judges he sacked if the country’s new government amends the constitution instead of simply passing a parliamentary resolution, a spokesman for his political party said Saturday.
Musharraf purged the judiciary of some 60 judges, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, when he imposed a state of emergency in November to avoid any legal challenges to his re-election as president. But the action angered many Pakistanis, who rejected Musharraf’s allies in the Feb. 18 elections, paving the way for the formation of a coalition government, which on Friday set May 12 as the date to restore judges. The government’s decision further threatened the U.S.-backed president’s already diminished grip on power.
Although the presidency has avoided comment on the latest move, Tariq Azim, the spokesman for Musharraf’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, said the president “may accept the restoration of judges if the government amends the constitution.” However, Azim insisted that the judges could not be sent back to courts by the parliament’s simply approving a resolution. He provided no further details, and said the president was still consulting experts. His comments came a day after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party is a main partner in the coalition government, told reporters that the ruling party chief, Asif Ali Zardari, had agreed to restore the judges.
Restoring the judges has been a top priority for the two main parties in Pakistan’s month-old government, but disputes over how to bring the judges back has threatened to break up the ruling coalition.
After marathon talks in Dubai this week, coalition officials finally came to a deal. “I want to inform the entire nation that on Monday, May 12 all the sacked judges will be restored,” Nawaz Sharif, head of the second-biggest party in the coalition, said at a Friday news conference in Lahore.
Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party, the largest party in the coalition, confirmed the plan.
Bringing the justices back bodes ill for the unpopular president, who seized power from Sharif in a 1999 military coup.
The judges could revisit Musharraf’s disputed re-election. Even if they don’t, some argue the humiliation of the judges returning would prompt Musharraf to resign. Musharraf would have to be “absolutely shameless” to continue as president if the judges came back, said Khawaja Asif, a key Sharif aide. He said Musharraf also risks impeachment.
Zardari, who has been leading the party of his wife Benazir Bhutto since she was assassinated on Dec. 27, told Pakistani Aaj news channel late Friday that he was maintaining a distance from Musharraf. “We are trying to be at distance from him (Musharraf),” he said, adding “we want to establish political institutions, strengthen the parliament” and “how can I accept a president who is beyond the parliament?” However, Zardari would not confirm the May 12 date for the judges’ restoration as announced by Sharif, saying the question should be put to a committee of experts set up by Sharif to draft the resolution.
“Ask this question of that committee,” he said, but added, “God willing, as soon as possible this will be done.”