Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif has stepped up pressure for the reinstalling of Pakistani judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf.
Sharif planned to meet later yesterday in London with fellow ruling coalition leader Asif Ali Zardari to discuss the issue, which threatens their five-week-old coalition government.
Musharraf, a stalwart US ally, removed 60 senior judges in November to halt legal challenges to his re-election efforts.
The new civilian government has promised to restore them — a move that could humiliate the former army strongman and propel him toward the political exit.
But its leaders remain split despite weeks of wrangling over how to do it. They already have missed an April 30 deadline.
The party of Zardari, the widower of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto, argues that legislation or a constitutional amendment is needed. His party leads the government.
“Everything has to be in line with the law and constitution,” said Law Minister Farooq Naek, a Zardari party colleague.
But Sharif, his main coalition partner, told ARY television late on Thursday that the government can issue a simple order to bring back the judges after the passage of a parliamentary resolution slated for May 12.
“We need political will,” Sharif said. “There is no need to seek any help from the law and constitution for it.”
“The whole nation should march” with the judges as they head back to their offices, he said.
Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November and purged the judiciary just before the Supreme Court could rule on the legality of his re-election as president the month before.
He accused then-chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry of conspiring against him and his plan to guide Pakistan back to democracy after his eight years of military rule.
However, the crackdown only deepened Musharraf’s unpopularity and contributed to the rout of his political allies in landmark February parliamentary elections.
The coalition government faces an array of economic problems, including energy shortages and soaring trade and budget deficits driven by rising world oil prices. The value of the rupee is sliding.
The government has begun indirect peace talks with Taliban militants, which it hopes will curb a growing insurgency focused on the Afghan border. American officials worry that the government’s reluctance to use military force will allow al-Qaeda to regroup.
The alliance between Zardari and Sharif was founded primarily on their pledge to restore the judges and to dramatically reduce Musharraf’s once-sweeping authority.
Sharif, whose government was toppled when Musharraf mounted a coup in 1999, is pushing hard for his resignation.
However, Zardari, perhaps mindful of US concerns, warns that a confrontation with the presidency is premature and the government must focus on tasks including shoring up the economy and tackling Islamic extremism.
Musharraf, who stepped down as army chief in December, has pledged to support the new government.