Leaders of Pakistan's ruling coalition have held a fresh round of talks in Islamabad in a bid to save their fragile alliance. Both sides have termed the meeting ‘positive’ and are expected continue talks on Wednesday. The standoff between the coalition partners has hampered the functioning of the new government severely.
PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, left, with former Premier Nawaz Sharif, right, during their meeting in Islamabad
Both Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) have described Tuesday’s meeting between former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan People’s Party leader Asif Ali Zardari as ‘crucial’. But they declined to comment further as to whether they made any headway on the issues, which have practically paralysed their coalition government. Ahmad Bilal Mehboob a political expert from Islamabad says their inability to resolve the differences can be detrimental for the country:
“Over the past four months, since this coalition came into being, public perception of the government has really gone down. If they don’t agree on something substantive, I think the popularity of the government will be further diluted and that’s not going to be good news for the government.”
Sharif and Zardari have held several meetings in the last few months, but failed to arrive at a consensus. Sharif’s party has been insisting on the reinstatement of judges dismissed by President Pervez Musharraf last November during a state of emergency. His party also demands that the PPP take a clear position on the impeachment of Musharraf, who came to power after ousting Sharif’s government in a military coup in 1999.
Zardari initially agreed to restore the judges but later softened his position. He insists the step should be part of a broader set of constitutional reforms. Observers however call his approach a need-based strategy. “It has something to do with an understanding which PPP had arrived at with Musharraf before the election”, explains Ahmad Bilal Mehboob.
“Now the question of the judiciary has come to a stage where if you restore the judiciary, the President will have to go because his position will be challenged. So this understanding is one of the main hurdles for the PPP to take a decision on impeachment of Musharraf or the reinstatement of the judiciary,” he adds.
In the face of a widening difference in standpoints, Sharif pulled his ministers out of the cabinet in May. Some sources say his party has now given the PPP until August 14 to meet its demands. However the party has also refused to spell out what it would do if the demands are not met by that time. Will it withdraw its support from the coalition? Expert Bilal Mehmood doesn’t believe this:
“If they are unpopular among people, then it will become easier for forces that don’t have trust in democracy to wrap-up the system of democracy. For example it will become easier for the armed forces to push out the civilian set up. And I am sure both these parties don’t want this.”
It is now four months since the new government took power in Pakistan. But it hasn’t been able to prove if it can put the country back on its feet. Political instability is growing, so is the economic uncertainty. Pakistan's main stock market index dropped by 3 percent earlier this week to hit an almost two year low. The rupee is also touching all-time lows.