Top political leaders from Pakistan's two major parties have held talks in Dubai. The Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML(N)) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have been seeking agreement on how to restore the judges, who were sacked by President Musharraf last year when he imposed emergency rule but to little avail.
Last month, PPP co-leader Asif Ali Zardari (left) and PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif happily forged a coalition -- now they are arguing over the restoration of the judiciary
The reinstatement of the judges is the biggest test so far for Pakistan’s recently-formed coalition government. The Dubai meeting between the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), Nawaz Sharif and the co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, Asif Ali Zardari, was arranged after all previous attempts failed to end the deadlock over the issue.
The two parties forged a political alliance after defeating President Musharraf's political allies in recent polls. They signed the so-called Murree Declaration in March, pledging to restore the sacked judges by the end of April with a parliamentary resolution.
But a dispute began when the PPP insisted that the restoration should be part of a constitutional package, which includes plans for judicial reforms. Former premier Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N), however, is in favour of reinstating the judges unconditionally.
Sticking to original plans
Before leaving for Dubai, Nawaz Sharif said the original agreement should be kept to. “They are talking about a constitutional package but we are committed to restoring the judges by a simple parliamentary resolution and modalities have already been agreed upon in the Murree Declaration.”
Sharif also said the judges should be restored within 30 days and that they should be given the same positions they had before President Musharraf used the Provisional Constitutional Order on November 2 2007 to suspend the existing constitution and the judges.
Nawaz Sharif also has also insisted that the judges who replaced the sacked judges, who still hold their positions today, must now be removed from office, since they were given their positions under an illegal state of emergency. The PPP has so far shown reluctance to agree to this demand.
Dr. Rasool Bux Rais, a political expert from Lahore, was not very optimistic that an agreement would be met: “Unfortunately they have failed to deliver any positive results on this issue. There is speculation that that the PPP and its leadership are not taking the issue of restoring the judiciary seriously due of some hidden reasons.”
One of these “hidden reasons” could be the fact that the PPP and President Musharraf are coming closer together -- the PPP has recently expressed its wish to develop a working relationship with the president.
Another reason could be that a deal was made when PPP co-leader Zardari was allowed to return to Pakistan after Musharraf granted him amnesty against graft charges, which he alleged had been politically-motivated.
Risks of instability
If the dispute between the two allies and their leaders continues, there are fears in Pakistan that the PML (N) might pull out of the coalition altogether. This would lead once again to more instability in the country.
"Tomorrow, we have a central working committee meeting in Lahore and if nothing concrete comes up we will decide on our future strategy,” Mohammad Mahdi, a senior PML (N) leader, said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, as the two political parties argue, Pakistan’s lawyers, who have criticised the sacking of the judges ever since November last year, have threatened to stir up their protest movement if the judges are not restored in the coming days.