Proposed Pakistan coalition could oust Musharraf
ISLAMABAD – The leaders of the two parties that came out on top in Pakistan’s election meet on Thursday to discuss forming a coalition government that could force President Pervez Musharraf out of power.
Musharraf, who won power in a 1999 military coup in the nuclear-armed nation and has been one of Washington’s top Muslim allies against al Qaeda, is vulnerable to a hostile parliament after his supporters were heavily defeated in Monday’s election.
Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister Musharraf overthrew more than eight years ago and whose party came second in the election, goes into the coalition talks having made clear he would like to drive the president from power.
But in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Wednesday, Musharraf said he was not ready to resign. “We have to move forward in a way that we bring about a stable democratic government to Pakistan,” he said.
U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration has urged the next government to work with Musharraf and says Washington needs Pakistan — which borders Afghanistan where U.S. and NATO-led forces are fighting Islamist militants — as an ally.
“We’ve got interests in helping make sure there is no safe haven from which people can plot and plan attacks against the United States of America and Pakistan,” Bush told reporters during a visit to Ghana. Musharraf’s critics say his efforts to hold on to power have been a destabilizing factor in a country already battling to stop attacks on its territory by al Qaeda and other militants. Neighbors and allies fear Pakistan is becoming more unstable.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto emerged as the main victor in the election and has begun coalition talks with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), also known as PML-N or the Nawaz League.
“We are going to find solutions to the problems of Pakistan,” Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari, who took over as PPP leader after she was killed on December 27, said of his planned meeting with Sharif.
“Parliament will decide which president it can work with and which president it cannot,” Zardari told reporters.
Since returning from exile in November, a month after Bhutto, Sharif has championed the reinstatement of judges Musharraf fired when he imposed six weeks of emergency rule on November 3.
“There are no chances of showing any flexibility on the issue of judges’ reinstatement,” Sharif said on Wednesday.
Musharraf sacked the judges, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, before they could rule on whether his re-election by the last parliament while he was army chief was legitimate under Pakistan’s constitution. Analysts say if the PPP and Sharif’s party team up, Musharraf can either quit gracefully or drag Pakistan through more upheaval as parliament tries to oust him on grounds he violated the constitution when he imposed emergency rule.
Analysts say Musharraf will be hoping Zardari and Sharif fail to agree on a coalition and that this could occur because of a history of enmity and mistrust between their parties. Zardari was adamant Musharraf’s main supporters, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), would not be admitted to a PPP-led coalition, but gave the president a glimmer of hope by saying a junior partner in the last PML-led government was welcome.