Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pakistan Coalition Collapsing as US intervenes

The rift between the PPP and PML(N) on the question of restoring judges appeared to have widened on Sunday as Nawaz Sharif prepared to leave London amidst reports of continuing deadlock.

Ahsan Iqbal, federal minister for education and a spokesman for Mr. Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (N), said his party would quit the cabinet if the judges weren't restored by Monday, according a report in the Wall Street Journal. "We will have no justification to remain in the government if the judges were not reinstated," said Mr. Iqbal. The party is expected to announce its decision on Monday.

Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Richard Boucher met with the two party leaders in London. A spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said the meetings were part of Mr. Boucher's regular interactions with a wide range of Pakistani political leaders and denied the talks had anything to do with the restoration of judges. "The restoration of judges is Pakistan's issue to solve. It is not for the United States to prescribe solutions," the spokeswoman, Elizabeth Colton, said in a statement.

A senior member of the PPP, which leads the two-month old coalition, said the U.S. official advised the Pakistani leaders not to take measures that could push the government into direct confrontation with Mr. Musharraf. The failure of Messrs. Zardari and Sharif to reach agreement on the mechanics of the judges' reinstatement raises the prospect of an end to their partnership.

In spite of the US statements to the contrary, the timing and the location of these meetings with Boucher are seen an unwarranted intervention in Pakistan. The US contacts at this crucial moment raise great suspicions among Pakistanis. It seems, however, that the differences between Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif on this issue are so deep that the coalition collapse is imminent, with or without the US intervention.

It is clear that Mr. Zardari fears the return of "partisan" judges who have clearly shown an affinity with PML(N) backed by the lawyers movement in Punjab. Many of these judges have shown animosity toward the PPP and Mr. Musharraf on the question of the National Reconciliation Ordnance which granted amnesty to the PPP leaders. The US was instrumental in arranging the NRO and supports its full implememtation. The return of these judges could spell trouble for both Mr. Zardari and President Musharraf and help Mr. Sharif in his pursuit of unchecked power exercised through friendly activist judges of the Supreme Court. Understandably, Mr. Zardari is highly suspicious of Mr. Sharif's motives and that has prevented any progress on this issue.

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