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Pressure on Asif, Nawaz to work with president

February 23, 2008


ISLAMABAD, Feb 22: Western envoys in Islamabad continued on Friday what seemed to be hectic contacts with the leaders of parties that won last Monday’s elections amid mounting worries about President Pervez Musharraf’s political future.

The president has come under renewed pressures after the elections threw up all opponents of his iron-fisted rule for more than eight years and crushed the main party of his loyalists.

The meetings, mainly of American and British ambassadors with the leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), have led to speculations about possible counsels to the makers of the future government to try to co-exist with Musharraf despite years of their mutual hostility.

No details have been available of the talks, except that matters about transition to democracy and counter-terrorism were among subjects discussed, indicating the West’s concerns about the future of Pakistan’s key role in the so-called war on terrorism of which the president is the architect.

US ambassador Anne W. Paterson on Friday had a second contact with PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari within a few days, though this time accompanied by a Congressional delegation that earlier met President Musharraf.

British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley held a second meeting with Mr Sharif, only a day after the PML-N leader reiterated his hard line against the man who toppled him as prime minister in the Oct 12, 1999 coup, by telling a news conference that “sooner he (president) left the better”.

Washington’s known preference for a power-sharing between Musharraf and the PPP had led to the return of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan after about nine years of self-imposed foreign exile.

But any deal cut then was overtaken by Ms Bhutto’s Dec 27 assassination in a gun-and-bomb attack after she addressed a campaign rally in Rawalpindi and the rout of the previously ruling and pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League in the elections, which left the two main winning parties the most sensible course of power-sharing between themselves rather than with those who will remain virtual political untouchables for now.

President Musharraf’s worries are not only about a constant ridicule across the country and increasing demands that he step aside, but also the commitment of opposition parties to clip the presidency of its sweeping powers without which he would remain just nominal head of state who must only act on the advice of a prime minister and not have the present authority to sack a prime minister, dissolve parliament and choose the heads of the armed forces.

The winning parties do not recognise President Musharraf’s controversial election for another term in October by a dying parliamentary college as valid, mainly on the ground that he blocked the hearing by a Supreme Court bench of challenges to his candidacy in army uniform by imposing an extra-constitutional emergency under which about 60 judges of the Supreme Court and provincial high courts were sacked for refusing or not being called to take oath under a Provisional Constitution Order.

While the winning political parties are ready to take a parliamentary course to deal with the aftermath of the emergency, the legal community has renewed its campaign for the restoration of the pre-Nov 3 judiciary, which could overturn the post-Nov 3 Supreme Court’s validation of the president’s candidacy.

The lawyers’ threat to organise a big march on Islamabad on March 9 if the pre-Nov 3 judiciary is not restored by then is likely to put the elected parties to test. These parties are unlikely to have formed a coalition government by that time but they will have to make a commitment to the lawyers and risk their honeymoon being spoiled by the lawyers’ agitation.