Just six weeks in, Pakistan’s coalition government is already on its way out. Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League plans to withdraw its ministers from the young Cabinet. President Musharraf’s future is at stake. But even if he’s under fire in his country, the West and especially the United States, consider him an important ally, whom they don’t want to fall.
Last year, the lawyers took to the streets in protest against President Musharraf -- they are threatening to step up their protest again
In the end, the coalition partners -- the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League (PML-N) -- were not able to come to an agreement on how to reinstate the judges sacked by President Musharraf last autumn. Yet that was what they had both ceremonially promised to do together.
On 12 May, a second deadline for restoring the judges elapsed. A first deadline had already been missed on 30 April. Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari from the PPP tried to come to a last-minute agreement in Dubai and then in London but their negotiations were in vain.
Musharraf is afraid of the dismissed judges, especially former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, because they could declare his November re-election illegal. But Nawaz Sharif’s party has insisted on their being reinstated. While the People’s Party, led by Benazir Bhutto’s widower, Asif Zardari, has kept finding objections.
Hamid Khan, one of the leaders of the lawyers’ movement against Musharraf, accuses the People’s Party of betrayal and of being in cahoots with the Musharraf camp.
“In reality what’s happened is this: Musharraf’s advisers (Sharifuddin Pirzada and Malik Qayum) and Zardari’s advisers, including Law Minister Farooq Naik, have met regularly and they’ve made plans to sabotage the lawyers’ movement,” Khan explained. “They even went to Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Dogar and consulted with him.“
Pressure from below
But the People’s Party is now likely to feel the pressure from the streets. Lawyers and opposition parties have already started demonstrating in Islamabad.
“We had thought that Zardari’s close advisers would try to hinder the reinstatement of the judges at any cost,” Khan said.
“But because they signed the coalition agreement we decided it made sense to grant them some time, although we never trusted their intentions. In the end, we didn’t want people to say, sooner or later, that we hadn’t given the parliament and the parties the chance to solve this problem.”
Asif Zardari might well be against the reinstatement of the sacked judges because the current judges recently dropped all charges against him. But most Pakistani observers think there is another reason. They think the West, especially the US, is putting pressure on politicians in Pakistan to strengthen their old ally Pervez Musharraf.
Whether by coincidence or not, the Commonwealth re-admitted Pakistan as a full member on Monday. Pakistan was suspended last autumn after Musharraf imposed emergency rule.
At the weekend, US Assistant Secretary of State held talks with Nawaz Sharif in London. “The Americans are insisting that Musharraf fulfil his full five years in office. And so, the People’s Party is in a strange dilemma,” observed M. Ziauddin, the London correspondent for the Pakistani daily “Dawn”.
“Should they openly rebel against this with Nawaz Sharif? Or should they just move forward cautiously step by step?” is the question. Nawaz Sharif’s decision on Monday brought this dilemma into the open. The People’s Party is going to have to show its true colours.