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BHURBAN, March 9: The Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N -- two major winners of the Feb 18 elections -- on Sunday signed a landmark declaration to form coalition governments at the centre and in Punjab and to restore deposed judges of the superior courts.

In what is being described here as a serious setback to President Pervez Musharraf, the two parties agreed on the restoration of the deposed judges to the pre-Nov 3 position through a resolution to be adopted in the National Assembly within 30 days of the formation of the federal government. Some 60 judges of the Supreme Court and high courts were dismissed when they refused or were not called to take the oath under the Provisional Constitution Order when President Musharraf had imposed the state of emergency on November 3 last year.

What PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif called the “Murree Summit Declaration” was signed by him and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari in the presence of leaders of their parties and a large number of media personnel at a five-star hotel in Bhurban after talks held earlier at Mr Sharif’s Murree residence.

The PPP was represented in the talks by Raza Rabbani, Syed Khurshid Shah, Naveed Qamar, Sherry Rehman and Farooq Naek. PML-N leaders included Shahbaz Sharif, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Raja Zafarul Haq, Ishaq Dar, Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal and Sardar Mahtab Abbasi.

“In today’s meeting between leaders of the PPP and PML-N, it was decided that the restoration of deposed judges as on November 2, 2007, shall be brought about through a parliamentary resolution to be passed in the National Assembly within 30 days of the formation of the federal government,” Mr Sharif said while reading out the declaration.

He said the PPP and the PML-N undertook to form a coalition government “together for a democratic Pakistan” for translating into action the mandate given by the people of Pakistan to democratic forces on Feb 18.

Mr Sharif said it was agreed that the nominee of the PPP for the office of the prime minister would be fully supported by all coalition partners.

He said the two sides had agreed that the speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly would be from the PPP and the speaker and deputy speaker of the Punjab Assembly from the PML-N.

Mr Sharif said the PML-N would be part of the federal cabinet and the PPP of the Punjab government. When asked if PML-N members were ready to be administered the oath of the office by President Musharraf, he said: “Whatever we have achieved is a great objective and we will have to take part in some matters despite our unwillingness.”

Political experts have so far been saying that Mr Sharif wants to stay out of a PPP-led government as a “political move” in order to be in a better position in the next election.

The absence of Makhdoom Amin Fahim, senior PPP leader and a front-runner for the office of the prime minister, was noticed and highlighted by the media. However, Mr Zardari could not give a satisfactory reply to questions about Mr Fahim’s absence and simply said: “He (Mr Fahim) was invited. But he was busy. This committee is a very small thing for him.”When Mr Sharif was asked about his choice for the premiership, he said his party wanted as prime minister a person “who can truly follow the democratic agenda and should not be a wired (linked to intelligence agencies) person”.

When asked about the future of the controversial National Security Council and Article 58(2)b that gives a president the power to dismiss an elected government, Mr Sharif said the country should not have a presidential system and that would soon be changed into a parliamentary system.He said the two parties were clear on these matters which were also mentioned in the Charter of Democracy he had signed with late PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto some two years ago. He said the two parties would implement the Charter of Democracy which could change the fate of the 160 million people of Pakistan.

When asked about the future of President Musharraf, Mr Sharif said his party still considered him an “unconstitutional and illegal president”.

“Musharraf and his cronies have been saying it’s a hung parliament. Even if it is so, it’s against dictatorship,” he said, asking President Musharraf to step down and accept the people’s verdict.

He alleged that the president was still making efforts to create hurdles in the way of a coalition government.

Mr Zardari, however, showed some restraint while talking about President Musharraf and said he did not believe in “personal agendas” and believed in the office of the president. He said the PPP wanted everybody to work in harmony.

Answering a question, Mr Zardari said his party would engage the Muttahida Qaumi Movement again after the formation of governments, but with the permission of Mr Sharif.

About the May 12, 2007, incident in which over 40 people were killed in Karachi, he said the PPP would order a judicial inquiry into incidents in which the PPP suffered casualty.

Mr Zardari said: “Today we are standing on the verge of making history. It was the desire of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto that they have signed this ‘road to democracy’.”

He said both the parties would make every decision after taking the nation into confidence. “People of Pakistan have come up with their decision. Please, give us a chance,” he said, adding that the next coalition government would try to come up to the expectations of the masses.

Mr Zardari said the next government would scrap the controversial Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Ordinance to give more freedom to the media. “We will try to provide relief to the people by reducing prices of flour and other commodities.”

Answering a question about Dr A.Q. Khan’s detention, the PPP co-chairman said that the question should be addressed to those who had created this situation.