ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – All the Pakistan judges deposed by President Pervez Musharraf during emergency rule last November will be reinstated on May 12, the leader of the second largest party in the ruling coalition government said on Friday.
“I want to inform the entire nation that on Monday, May 12, 2008, all deposed judges will be restored,” former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N), said in a televised news conference from Lahore.
Sharif held talks with Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto’s widower and leader of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), in Dubai on Wednesday and Thursday to try to resolve differences over the restoration of some 60 judges who refused to endorse Musharraf’s imposition of a brief period of emergency rule on Nov. 3.
Speculation swirled in the past week that the month-old PPP-led coalition could split, and the Karachi stock market closed on Friday almost 5 percent below its April 21 peak. The government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani needs stability to address the challenge of Islamist militancy and economic problems in the shape of widening trade and fiscal deficits, rising inflation, and increasing power cuts.
Western allies in the war on terrorism dread nuclear-armed Pakistan sliding into a prolonged period of instability.
Sharif said the anti-Musharraf alliance, whose election victory in February destroyed the president’s parliamentary support, intended to stick together.
“We are in strong favour of keeping this coalition for the sake of country and we understand we should keep it at all costs. It’s break-up would rejuvenate dictatorship,” said Sharif, the prime minister General Musharraf overthrew in a bloodless coup in 1999.
A constitutional package was being drafted, and the PML-N was in favour of clipping the president’s powers, Sharif said.
The most important measure under consideration is removing the president’s right to dismiss a government. Clashes with the presidency brought down both Bhutto and Sharif governments during the 1990s.
The parties of Sharif and Zardari, who took over leadership of the PPP after his wife’s assassination, formed a government after forging a post-election alliance, but they have been at loggerheads over how make good a pledge to bring back the judges.
A self-imposed deadline for passing a resolution in the National Assembly to restore the judges passed on Wednesday.
Sharif wants the judges brought back as a first step to driving Musharraf out of the presidency.
The restored judges could revive challenges to the legitimacy of Musharraf’s re-election in October by an outgoing parliament while still army chief.
Zardari, however, is trying to avoid an early confrontation with Musharraf, who retired from the army in November.
The PPP leadership has reservations about some judges, notably Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Supreme Court Chief Justice whose defiance of Musharraf galvanised the opposition last year.
The PPP favours reinstating Chaudhry and then forcing him to retire, while Sharif’s party is negotiating to allow the judge to stay on until 2010, according to sources familiar with the talks.
Sharif said a six-member committee headed by Law Minister Farooq Naek will prepare a draft of the resolution and address other legal issues regarding the restoration of the judges.
The committee will include lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, the President of Supreme Court Bar Association and a former minister in Bhutto’s party.
If there is any deadlock in the committee the matter will be referred back to the coalition’s leadership, Sharif said.