Pakistan risks political crisis unless its ruling coalition can agree on how to restore judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf, a Cabinet minister warned.
Musharraf imposed emergency rule and purged the Supreme Court in November in order to halt legal challenges to his US-backed presidency.
Opponents who won February elections and have taken over the government have vowed to bring the judges back — a move that would raise pressure on Musharraf to resign.
But the failure of coalition leaders’ to agree on exactly how to do it has raised the prospect that their six-week-old administration could fall apart.
Doubts arose about a plan for the country’s parliament to pass a resolution today calling for the return of the judges, after there was no progress at talks held on Friday in London between the two main ruling parties’ leaders, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.
Ahsan Iqbal, a key Sharif aide, forecast however that the two sides would hammer out a compromise by today — the second self-imposed deadline for action to restore the judges.
“I think there will be an acceptable solution,” he said.
Party leaders were staying on in London to continue their negotiations, he said.
But both sides are showing signs of frustration.
Sharif, a former prime minister whose government was ousted in Musharraf’s 1999 coup, argued that the government could issue a simple order to bring back the judges after the parliamentary resolution.
Sharif has pressed hard for the judges’ return — and for Musharraf’s ouster.
But a senior party colleague of Zardari reacted sharply on Saturday to Sharif’s additional suggestion that police could escort the justices back to their jobs.
“If police restore the judges ... then there will be a political and constitutional crisis,” Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.
“We need to be responsible and avoid unnecessary confrontation at a time when Pakistan is beset with so much conflicts and economic and social pressures,” she said.
Rehman was referring to concern that Musharraf and his allies could seek to block the return of Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry as chief justice.
Musharraf has accused Chaudhry of corruption and conspiring against his plan to guide Pakistan back to democracy after eight years of his military rule.
Zardari insists judges sworn into the Supreme Court after the purge be retained so they do not oppose the government in a legal tussle that would cast the country into political turmoil.
Sharif’s party has threatened to quit the Cabinet — but not the coalition — if the today’s deadline is not met.