ISLAMABAD/LAHORE, April 29: PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif dashed to Dubai on Tuesday in a last-ditch attempt to save the one-month-old coalition government from collapsing after several rounds of talks between PML-N and PPP leaders on reinstatement of the deposed judges produced no result.
Leaders of the two parties have for the first time openly admitted that the coalition governments at the Centre and in Punjab were facing a serious threat of falling apart on the issue of judges.
Before his departure for Dubai from Lahore, Mr Sharif told reporters that he would try his best to save the coalition.
But, he said: “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.”
He had been asked what he considered to be more important at this stage, saving the coalition or reinstating the judges.
Answering another question, he said the PPP-PML-N alliance was based on the one-point agenda of reinstatement of the judges, and he neither sought anything for himself nor for his party in return.
He said he believed in resolving national problems but because of the importance and sensitivity of the issue he had decided to go to Dubai.
Mr Sharif said he wished to keep the alliance intact but animosity towards the judges was tantamount to animosity towards the country. He said there were powers that did not want democracy to flourish in the country.
Urging the PPP to take the bold step of restoring the pre-emergency judiciary, the PML-N leader cautioned that by accepting the Nov 3, 2007, action of the then army ruler, (they) would not be able to hold their heads high. This would also be against national interests, he said.
The former prime minister said the nation must not forgive the dictator who had dissolved all institutions, assaulted the judiciary and arrested judges only to save himself.
“Such a person cannot and should not be forgiven.”
Federal Minister for Information Sherry Rehman told Dawn that her party would do its ‘utmost to keep them (the PML-N) at the Centre’.
She went on to say that if the PML-N ‘regrettably’ left the coalition, ‘we may have to consider leaving Punjab government too.’
PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that the meeting between Mr Asif Ali Zardari and Mr Nawaz Sharif was expected on Wednesday, the last day of the 30-day deadline for reinstatement of the judges set in the Bhurban Declaration.
Mr Zardari has made it clear several times that he does not believe in the deadline for reinstatement of the judges and some of the PPP ministers have even called the countdown process ‘anti-democratic’.
Mr Babar claimed that the talks between the PPP and the PML-N were ‘progressing’ and hopefully the issues would be resolved soon. He said both sides had the realisation that the coalition must stay, adding that democracy would suffer if the coalition fell apart.
The information minister said the PPP had always maintained that judges would be reinstated. But, she said, the PPP did not want to drop present judges as they also had taken oath under the 1973 Constitution and the party did not want to take any unconstitutional step.
She said they had always stated that a constitutional package was needed for reinstatement of the judges, adding that the judges would be reinstated in any case whether the ruling alliance stayed together or not.
“This is the commitment we have made to the people of Pakistan. We are bound to implement it (the Bhurban Declaration),” she said, adding: “We hope that our allies will show the same sense of responsibility which they had shown by taking part in the elections on our request.”
Sources said the PML-N had prepared a three-phase strategy in case the talks with the PPP failed in Dubai. In the first phase, the PML-N ministers will stop going to their offices, in the second phase they will announce boycott of cabinet meetings and then they will quit the cabinet.
The PML-N has already announced that if the judges are not reinstated, its ministers will not stay in the cabinet, but the party will continue to support the PPP government.
Mr Zardari went to Dubai last week to spend some days with his children and he was scheduled to return home on Sunday. However, when Mr Zardari decided to extend his stay, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif, accompanied by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Khawaja Asif, went to Dubai on Monday and held talks with Mr Zardari.
The PPP co-chairman was assisted in the talks by Law Minister Farooq Naek and Adviser to Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik.
The PML-N says the judges should be reinstated through a simple resolution in the National Assembly and an executive order by the prime minister, but the PPP says that the reinstatement should be linked to a constitutional package.
The sources said that through the proposed constitutional package the PPP not only wanted to fix the tenure of the chief justice, but also to curtail his powers to take suo motu actions.
Both PPP and PML-N leaders are not ready to divulge details of the constitutional package which the PPP wants to bring in parliament.
Law Minister Farooq Naek, however, said that there would be some clauses and articles in the Constitution under which no judge would be able to validate any military takeover in future.
The sources said the proposed constitutional package also contained a clause barring judges having taken oath under the PCO from becoming head of any judicial inquiry committee or commission. Besides, they will not be appointed as head of any important institution like the Election Commission of Pakistan, Federal Public Service Commission, Federal Services Tribunal and the Industrial Relations Commission. According to a source, there was a proposal that such judges should also not be allowed to contest the election for the National and provincial assemblies.
PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has already stated that his party is ready to support any constitutional package based on the Charter of Democracy, but only after the judges’ reinstatement.
According to unconfirmed reports, the PPP co-chairman has summoned party leaders from all provinces to Dubai for discussing the party’s line of action in the event of the PML-N quitting the coalition.
The PML-N has convened its executive committee and parliamentary party meeting in Lahore on May 1.