Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party will join lawyers in street protests next month to press for the restoration of judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf, a spokesman said yesterday, a move that could further strain the unraveling coalition government.
Leaders of the Pakistan lawyers’ movement said on Saturday they would organize a “long march” for June 10 to demand that the judges be reinstated. No route has been announced.
“We not only will fully support but [will] be part and parcel of this long march,” said party spokesman Sadiqul Farooq, adding that Sharif would personally participate.
Farooq said his party is not trying to destabilize the government, which is only about seven weeks old, but wants to remind it “to fulfill its commitment” to reinstate the judges.
Still, the decision to join the protests could further pressure the party’s larger coalition partner, the Pakistan People’s Party of Asif Ali Zardari, which has seen its popularity dented over the judges issue. The power struggle also comes as Pakistan faces growing economic problems and the continued threat of Islamic militancy.
Last week, Sharif pulled his ministers from the Cabinet over the judges issue.
Then came the controversial appointment of a governor in Punjab Province who is allied with Zardari’s party. Officials from Sharif’s party, which heads Punjab’s government, have said they are concerned that the new governor might interfere with the provincial administration.
Musharraf sacked dozens of independent-minded judges last November and declared a state of emergency to avoid legal challenges to his presidency.
The moves sparked widespread protests and fueled anger among lawyers — already upset over the president’s previous attempt to get rid of the chief justice.
Anti-Musharraf parties swept parliamentary elections in February and vowed to restore the judges. But the parties of Sharif and Zardari could not agree on how to do it.
Sharif’s party has demanded outright reinstatement. Zardari’s party has linked the judges’ restoration with a broader judicial reform package.
There also are complex legal and political questions to resolve, such as what will happen to the judges Musharraf installed after the purge, and the future role of the deposed chief justice.
Officials from Zardari’s party could not immediately be reached for commentyesterday, but a key Zardari aide said on Saturday that lawyers were free to protest.
“We are not a totalitarian government. We will neither stop them nor block coverage if they march,” Information Minister Sherry Rehman said.
In other developments, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has pledged to fight terrorism after a meeting with US President George W. Bush in Eygpt — the highest-level contact between the two governments since Pakistan’s new leaders offered peace talks to Islamist insurgents.
The two leaders met yesterday at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, a gathering of political and business leaders.
Bush said improving Pakistan’s economy would lessen the allure of extremism. Gilani promised to fight terrorism, calling it “against the humanity.”
Gilani’s government is seeking peace deals with militants who agree to lay down arms. But US officials worry the deals will give extremists time to regroup.