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ISLAMABAD, May 12: The Pakistan Muslim League-N has decided to pull out of the federal cabinet because of delay in the reinstatement of deposed judges, but said it will “support the government on an issue-to-issue basis”.

“Our ministers will go to the Prime Minister’s House tomorrow and submit their resignations,” PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif told a news conference after presiding over a meeting of the party’s central working committee and parliamentary group here on Monday.

However, he said: “We will not become part of any conspiracy to strengthen dictatorship and not become a tool in the hands of any person.” He said the party had decided not to sit in the opposition for the time being and to continue to support the government on an issue-to-issue basis.

“I am grieved over the decision,” the PML-N chief said, adding that the country was more important to him than government.

He said he had made all possible efforts to save the coalition and even visited Dubai and London on short notices.

Mr Sharif said the PML-N ministers had swallowed the bitter pill of taking oath from President Pervez Musharraf only because they wanted the judges to be reinstated with dignity and honour.

Replying to a question, he said his party would fully support the protest movement of lawyers and members of the civil society for the reinstatement of the judges and he himself would take part in their programmes. He said the PML-N would continue its struggle till the reinstatement of the judges and ouster of President Musharraf.

Replying to a question, he denied that there was any pressure from the US on him on the judges’ issue.Reading out excerpts from the Murree Declaration which he had signed with Pakistan People’s Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari on March 9, Mr Sharif said that they had pledged to the nation that the judges would be reinstated through a resolution within 30 days after the formation of the government. “I feel sorry that the judges’ reinstatement could not take place in 30 days and the issue remained mired within committees and debates.”

When asked about the main reason for the deadlock between the two parties, PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif said his party was not in favour of retaining the judges who had been appointed after the declaration of emergency on Nov 3, 2007, and who had taken oath under the Provisional Constitution Order. He said the party did not recognise the judges who had committed “treachery with the Constitution”.

The PML-N has nine ministers in the 24-member cabinet. The decision can affect the ongoing budget-making process because Finance Minister Ishaq Dar of the PML-N was due to present it in the National Assembly next month. The other ministers belonging to the party are: Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (senior minister), Shahid Khaqan Abbasi (commerce), Tehmina Daultana (science and technology), Rana Tanveer Hussain (defence production), Ahsan Iqbal (education), Khwaja Asif (petroleum and natural resources), Sardar Mahtab Abbasi (railways) and Khwaja Saad Rafiq (culture).

Meanwhile, the PPP said the ministries to be vacated by the PML-N would not be filled and the process of dialogue would be continued to resolve the issue. However, a full-time finance minister was required because of the budget season, it said.

It said PML-N’s decision was only a “pause in the process and not a break” in efforts to reinstate the judges and strengthen parliament.

A spokesman said that the PPP had decided not to withdraw its support to the coalition government in Punjab and its provincial ministers would not resign. The PML-N chief had said that it was for the PPP to decided whether it wanted to stay in the Punjab government.

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said Mr Zardari would return to the country in a couple of days and dialogue with the PML-N would be resumed.

He said in a statement that PML-N’s decision would not weaken PPP’s determination to strengthen the coalition and reinstate the sacked judges. He said the PPP believed that the issue would be resolved amicably and the judges would be reinstated. “The effects of the martial law of Nov 3 and the illegal sacking of judges should be undone in a legal and lawful manner,” he said.

Mr Babar said it had been agreed that the sacked judges would be reinstated without affecting the sitting ones and the issue that remained to be addressed was the best possible course to do it.

He said the action of Nov 3 designed to sack judges was wrong constitutionally, politically and morally. Therefore, there was no doubt that the judges would have to be reinstated and the constitutional amendments, decisions and orders made after Nov 3 reversed if not indemnified by parliament. The only question was how best to do it.