Pakistan's Sharif to join Bhutto party in coalition
Sun Mar 9, 2008 2:14pm EDT
By Kamran Haider
BHURBAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - Former Pakistani prime
minister Nawaz Sharif agreed on Sunday to join the
late Benazir Bhutto's party in a coalition, raising
the prospect of a government hostile to U.S. ally
President Pervez Musharraf.
In an ominous sign for Musharraf, Sharif and Asif Ali
Zardari, Bhutto's widower and the new leader of the
Pakistan People's Party (PPP), agreed to restore
judges who Musharraf dismissed when he imposed
emergency rule in early November.
Bhutto's PPP won the most seats in a February 18
general election but not enough to rule alone.
Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML (N),
party came second and while it had promised to support
the PPP, Sharif had not previously confirmed his party
would join the PPP in government.
"The coalition partners ... undertake to form a
coalition together for a democratic Pakistan," Sharif
and Zardari, who took over as PPP leader after Bhutto
was assassinated on December 27, said in their
Sharif read out the agreement at a news conference
with Zardari in the hill town of Bhurban, near
The dismissed judges, including the Supreme Court
chief justice, were seen as hostile to Musharraf's
October re-election by legislators for a new five-year
term as president while he was still army chief. The
judges are likely to take up legal challenges to
Musharraf if they are restored.
The agreement between the PPP and PML (N) would appear
to dash any hope that Musharraf might have had that
the party that backs him, which came a poor third in
the election, might be part of a coalition.
The Awami Nationalist Party, an ethnic Pashtun
nationalist party which has emerged as a major group
in the North West Frontier Province by trouncing
hard-line Islamic groups, will also be part of the
The Jamaiat-e-ulema-e-Islam, a major Islamic party,
has also said it had agreed "in principle" to join the
Zardari and Sharif agreed the reappointment of the
dismissed judges would occur through a parliamentary
resolution within 30 days of the formation of the
Musharraf quit as army chief in November, before being
sworn in as civilian president.
Western allies and Pakistan's neighbors, concerned
about instability in a nuclear-armed state already
reeling from suicide bombings by al Qaeda-inspired
militants, fear more political upheaval in the country
in case of confrontation between the president and new
Lawyers launched a week of protests on Sunday to press
for the restoration of the judges. Police fired tear
gas at protesters near the home of former chief
justice Iftikhar Chaudhry where he has been detained
It was a year ago on Sunday that Musharraf first
suspended Chaudhry, touching off protests by lawyers
and the opposition.
Sharif, who Musharraf ousted in a 1999 coup, has been
calling for the unpopular president to step down, and
on Sunday said Musharraf should accept the people's
verdict "against dictatorship".
Zardari was more conciliatory, saying he did not
believe in "personal agendas".
Musharraf has advised a new government to focus on
fighting terrorism and sustaining economic growth
rather than politics.
Musharraf said last week it would be a week or two
more before the new National Assembly is convened but
Sharif and Zardari called for the session to be called
While the parties agreed on a coalition, questions
have arisen in Bhutto's party over its candidate for
Zardari's deputy chairman and Bhutto's close aide,
Makhdoom Amin Fahim, has been regarded as the likely
choice for the job but a delay in nominating him has
led to doubts.
Ahmed Mukhtar, a former commerce minister in Bhutto's
cabinet, has emerged as another contender, since
Zardari himself is ineligible as he does not hold a
seat in the assembly.
Speaking to private television channels, Fahim
mentioned the possibility of quitting the party if he
were not nominated, adding he did not want party
(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Writing by
Robert Birsel; Editing by Matthew Jones)
(For a Reuters blog about Pakistan please see: