The restoration of the judiciary continued to dominate news coverage of Pakistan on Wednesday, and media outlets reported that PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari met for “a decisive round of talks” on the issue in Dubai. According to the Associated Press, “Pakistani leaders were up against a key deadline Wednesday in efforts to restore judges ousted by President Pervez Musharraf and end a spat that has strained their month-old coalition government.”
Nawaz reportedly flew to Dubai on Tuesday for the talks, since the 30-day deadline for the restoration of the judiciary [the Muree Declaration] is set to expire today. Although the one-time rivals agreed in March to push through a parliamentary resolution to restore dozens of judges removed by Musharraf last year, the AFP noted their dispute “resurfaced when the PPP insisted the reinstatement of the judges, including former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, be done via a constitutional package that includes plans for judicial reforms,” [see "Zardari Goes Back on his [Judicial] Word?” for more background]. The evident division spurred media speculation over fractures in the ruling coalition, and Dawn reported today, “Leaders of the two parties have for the first time openly admitted that the coalition governments at the Center and in Punjab were facing a serious threat of falling apart on the issue of judges.” Before he left for Dubai, Nawaz told reporters he “would try his best” to save the coalition, but also noted, “The integrity of the country will remain intact only if the judges are restored. Survival of Pakistan and of democracy will become a dream if the judges are not restored.” Just to note the divergence in the two leaders’ rhetoric, Zardari told GEO News Monday, “We were not given a mandate for restoration of judges. People voted for us to save Pakistan and to change the system.”
The potential collapse of the ruling coalition was further highlighted in a separate article released by The News today, which cited an anonymous PML-N minister, who said, “We have been pushed to the wall where we have no alternative but walk out of the cabinet.” The news agency added,
“Nawaz Sharif has departed for Dubai to make another last-ditch effort to save the coalition after his representatives failed to convince PPP Co-chairman Asif Zardari to agree to the reinstatement of the deposed judges. However, his mission has few chances of meeting with success. He is going to finally convey to Zardari that it would be impossible for him to keep his nominees in the cabinet if the dismissed judges did not return as committed by both the parties in the Murree Accord.”
Although the PML-N is unlikely to sever all ties with the PPP, there may be severe ramifications if the coalition cannot come to an agreement over the oft-mentioned judiciary issue. The Pakistani lawyers’ movement has already threatened to protest if the restoration does not take place, and this could further undermine the credibility of the new government. One only wonders what Musharraf could be thinking on the sidelines. [Image from The News]
UPDATE [1435 EST]: Media outlets reported that Zardari-Sharif talks have been completed “sans progress,” [see article in The News]. According to Reuters, a PML-N minister told reporters, “A lot of progress has been made … There is consensus on most issues but difference of opinion on some legal and constitutional matters.” With the Murree Declaration deadline just passed, Pakistan’s key leaders say they will make a “final decision” on the judiciary restoration issue tomorrow.