Pakistan’s leading lawmakers hoped for an accord yesterday on how to restore judges ousted by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, after failing to meet their deadline to resolve the dispute, which threatens their month-old coalition government.
After seven hours of talks on the issue on Wednesday in Dubai, “there has been progress,” said Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, a senior official in the party led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
He and others predicted an agreement would be reached during further talks yesterday.
The main pro-Musharraf party, meanwhile, said it would start work on its own proposal for restoring the judges to office and consider the possibility of joining a new ruling coalition if the current one breaks apart.
Musharraf purged the Supreme Court in November to stop legal challenges to his continuation as president. His allies were routed in February parliamentary elections by the parties that formed the new government.
The new ruling coalition promised to reinstate the judges by the end of last month, but its leaders have yet to agree on exactly how.
The dispute has fueled speculation that the alliance, which has been easing Musharraf’s military confrontation with Islamic militants, could crumble and bring more instability to the country.
The larger coalition party, led by Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, wants to link the restoration of judges to a proposed package of judicial reforms that could narrow the powers of deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry and prevent judges from getting involved in politics.
Zardari has accused Chaudhry and other judges of “playing politics” and failing to deliver justice to him during the years he spent in jail on unproven corruption charges.
On his way to the meeting, Sharif said the two parties must honor a pledge to use a parliamentary resolution to restore the judiciary and urged Zardari to “de-link” the resolution from the proposed broader reforms.
“The resolution is a simple resolution ... we will be very happy to look at the constitutional package whenever it comes to us,” Sharif told reporters.
Sharif’s party has threatened to pull its ministers from the Cabinet if the judges issue drags on, but insists it will remain part of the coalition.
Officials from both parties sought to play down the Wednesday deadline.
Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Zardari’s party, told Dawn News television that the Wednesday night deadline was “not critically important” as long as a deal eventually reached was smoothly implemented.
Khan, of Sharif’s party, said as Wednesday’s talks ended that the need for additional time wasn’t serious.
“A few hours here and there doesn’t matter. But the fact of the matter is the final decision would be made tomorrow and I am saying this very categorically,’’ he said.
Musharraf removed Chaudhry just as the Supreme Court was preparing to rule on the legality of his October election by the previous parliament to a new five-year presidential term. Musharraf accused the chief justice of corruption and conspiring against him and his plans to guide Pakistan back to democracy.
Chaudhry had shown an unusual degree of independence, blocking government privatization deals and investigating complaints that its spy agencies were holding opposition activists secretly under the cover of fighting international terrorism.