Font Size

- Aa +

Thu 21 Aug 2008 03:41 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Pakistan coalition working to smooth rifts

Dispute centres on the commitment to restore 60 judges sacked by Musharraf.

Members of Pakistan's ruling coalition said Wednesday they were trying to resolve a split over the reinstatement of judges sacked by former president Pervez Musharraf, who resigned this week.

Squabbles have distracted the coalition from dealing with rising Islamic militancy and a crisis-hit economy ever since its members trounced the US-backed Musharraf's political allies in elections in February.

The parties of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto and ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, which lead the coalition, managed a rare show of unity when they agreed on impeachment charges that forced Musharraf out of office on Monday.

But since then, Sharif has been pressing for the immediate restoration of the judiciary, with talks between coalition members on Tuesday ending without agreement and due to restart on Friday.

"There is no deadline given by us," education minister Ahsan Iqbal, a leading member of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N, told newswire AFP when asked about reports that it had given Bhutto's party an ultimatum during the talks.

"We will see after 72 hours and try to resolve this issue as we are committed to the judges' restoration."

A spokesman for Sharif's party however took a sterner stance.

"As far as our principled stand is concerned, we are not going to compromise," spokesman Siddiqul Farooq said.

Western allies urged the government after Musharraf's resignation to concentrate on Pakistan's problems, and would view a split in the coalition as creating a dangerous power vacuum in the nuclear-armed nation.

Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, and Sharif agreed in May to restore around 60 judges who were sacked by Musharraf during a state of emergency last November in order to push through his re-election as president.

But moves to bring back the judges, including the independent-minded former chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, stalled amid speculation over Zardari's commitment to doing so.

The judges could theoretically overturn an amnesty on graft charges that Musharraf gave to Zardari and Bhutto as part of a doomed power-sharing deal in October last year, before Bhutto's return from exile.

She was assassinated in a suicide attack in December.

"We have committed ourselves to restoration of the judiciary," Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, told AFP. He refused to comment further.

Musharraf warned in his televised resignation speech on Monday that the coalition had to tackle the country's problems urgently in order to "save Pakistan."

Pakistan's violent confrontation with Islamic militancy continued on Wednesday when troops killed 10 militants in a troubled tribal area bordering Afghanistan, a day after a suicide bombing at a hospital killed 23 people.

Pakistani newspapers said that the coalition had to get over its rifts to heal the country.

"Many had expected swift decisions [after Musharraf's resignation]", The News, a leading English-language daily, said in an editorial. "These should now be taken so that the past can be put behind us and a new beginning made."