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LONDON, May 10: A visibly disappointed Nawaz Sharif made it clear on Saturday that if by May 12 the PPP failed to keep the promise it had made in the Bhurban Declaration on the reinstatement of judges, the PML-N would walk out of the coalition government.

He, however, hastened to add that a decision on withdrawal or otherwise would be taken at a meeting of his party’s central working committee in Islamabad on Monday. And in case of a decision in favour of withdrawal, the meeting would also take a decision on whether PML-N should continue sitting on the treasury benches or switch over to the opposition.

Talking to Dawn, the PML-N leader confirmed that he had postponed his return to Pakistan by a day and also that Shahbaz Sharif and Khawaja Asif were meeting Rehman Malik and Hussain Haqqani in a last ditch effort to save the coalition.

He agreed with the suggestion that in case the PML-N withdrew from the coalition government at this juncture very serious economic repercussions would follow and would even discourage foreign donors from coming to Pakistan’s help in its on going efforts to cope with high oil and food prices and shortages of energy and irrigation water.

He said this aspect was discussed threadbare with the PPP leadership on Friday when he informed PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari that it would be impossible for the PML-N to remain in the coalition if the judges were not reinstated by May 12.

“That is the reason why both of us are trying our best to find a way out of the impasse,” he added.

He said he was as much concerned about the threats to the economy as any body but felt that it was the bounden duty of the nation to have the deposed judges reinstated and thought that the credibility gained from this action would enable the government to take the needed tougher economic decisions with the assurance that they would be supported by the people at large.

In reply to a question, he said he did not believe the president could afford to pick up a fight with the government at this juncture and neither did he fear any third force intervening to get rid of the elected government because of an imagined confrontation between the presidency and parliament as a consequence of the restoration of the judges.

He also rejected the argument that the US was opposed to the reinstatement of the judges because of Washington’s rumoured suspicion that Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was sympathetic toward the jihadis.

He said that in talks with him no US official or politician had ever raised this issue or expressed such suspicion about Justice Iftikhar.

Mr Nawaz consistently refused to be provoked into criticising the PPP leadership for its failure to make up its mind how and when to reinstate the deposed judges.

He said that in the first place he understood the difficulties being faced by the PPP leadership and also that he would appear totally hypocritical criticising the very leadership with which he had travelled so far and hoped to travel even further on the road to democracy.

A PPP source said that a new roadmap for the reinstatement of judges had been discussed during Saturday’s meeting between Shahbaz Sharif and Khawaja Asif and Rehman Malik and Hussain Haqqani. They are also said to have chalked out a joint political action plan for meeting any threat to the government from the presidency which is perceived to be averse to the reinstatement of judges.

The sources did not rule out another summit between Mr Sharif and Mr Zardari later in the evening in case the two parties reached a consensus on these proposals.

Discussions with sources close to the two parties, however, revealed that while the PPP is using all kinds of arguments to keep the PML-N from leaving the coalition it was not prepared to back off from its largely ambiguous position on the issue of reinstatement of the deposed judges.

It appeared as if the PPP feared some kind of a confrontation to emerge between the presidency and parliament following the reinstatement of judges which, it thought, would pave the way for the establishment to dismiss the government as well as the president and set up an interim government for the medium-term.

The PML-N sources also felt that perhaps Mr Zardari was still wary of reinstating Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and feared that he might try through the proposed constitutional package, if at all it is tabled, to curtail the restored CJ’s powers to reopen the NRO or President Musharraf’s disqualification case.

It is also the feeling of some of the PML-N insiders that from the beginning the PPP leadership had no intention of keeping the promise it had made in the Bhurban Declaration and had agreed to sign it only when the PML-N had made their joining the cabinet conditional to reinstatement of the judges.

Even the May 12 deadline, they said, had been agreed to by Mr Zardari in Dubai and he had given an understanding to Mr Sharif that he would own the date publicly once the latter announced it, but this too did not happen, “in fact doubts were created about this deadline by the PPP law minister immediately following the announcement as was done with the April 30 deadline by the information minister”.

One close aide of Mr Sharif felt that perhaps the PPP had promised President Musharraf that it would retain him as president for the next five years in return for the NRO, the doffing of the uniform, holding of ‘free and fair’ elections, allowing the PPP to make governments at the centre and in the four provinces, withdrawal of the graduation condition and other seen and unseen concessions and, therefore, felt obliged to block the return of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.