Consensus eludes Pakistani coalition on Musharraf successor

August 19th, 2008 - 11:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Aug 19 (IANS) The leaders of Pakistan’s ruling coalition Tuesday failed to agree on a consensus candidate to succeed Pervez Musharraf as president, to provide him indemnity and to work out the modalities of restoring the judges who were sacked after an emergency was declared last year.”All the leaders have gone back to their respective cities and would be meeting again on Friday,” said a politician privy to the talks here.

He said that a two-member committee consisting of Jamait Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandar Wali Khan has been formed to take a decision on judges’ restoration.

The parties will now come up with their respective candidates and will try to reach consensus on one of them. The parties will also present their views on the restoration of judges. However, sources said that coalition leader Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is trying to link all these issues with the indemnity for Musharraf.

The PPP, during Tuesday’s meeting, floated the idea that Musharraf be granted indemnity through an act of parliament, which would require a two-thirds majority.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the second largest party in the coalition, reacted angrily to the suggestion.

“What indemnity… we were never taken into confidence for giving indemnity to Musharraf,” PML-N leader Javed Hashmi told IANS.

PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif is known to be bitterly opposed to letting Musharraf off the hook, saying the former president should be punished for overthrowing his democratically elected government in 1999.

Hashmi said his party is committed to reinstating the judges and there would be absolutely no compromise on this.

“We cannot even think of combining the two - restoration of the judges and providing indemnity to Muhsrraf… we want justice for everyone,” Hashmi said, adding that there were no sacred cows in society.

Sources privy to developments say that Musharraf resigned under a deal with the PPP that parliament would indemnify him and that he would be allowed to live in Pakistan with full protocol as a former president.

“This is in return for the indemnity Musharraf provided to PPP leadership,” said one source.

Musharraf, as president, had last October issued an ordinance in the name of national reconciliation, under which several PPP leaders facing corruption charges returned to the country and now occupy important positions in the government.

Slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her widower Asif Ali Zardari, now the PPP co-chair, were among those who benefited from the ordinance.

“We want the restoration of judges without any further delay,” said Hashmi.

Musharraf, while imposing an emergency last November, had sacked 60 judges of the superior courts, including the country’s chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Only judges who pledged allegiance to the military dictator were re-appointed.

A politician who attended Tuesday’s talks wondered whether the coalition partners would ever reach consensus on the three issues they are now wrestling with.

“There a wide gap between the approaches of the PPP and the PML-N on restoration of the judges and a consensus (presidential) candidate. I feel it’s next to impossible that the two parties can arrive at a common decision,” the politician pointed out.

He was of the view that in absence of a vibrant opposition, the PML-N, which has been a bitter critic of the PPP in the recent past, might distance itself from the coalition and fill the vacuum.

However, the PPP wants to take the PML-N along and is optimistic that the coalition leaders will be able to find a solution.

“The leaders have met in a conducive atmosphere and would be meeting again. Certainly, this (restoration of the judges) is a critical issue and needs some serious thought and discussion,” Information Minister Sherry Rehman told reporters.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the 20-year-old student of law at Oxford, also participated in Tuesday’s discussion for the last 30 minutes and exchanged views with the members of the coalition government along with his father Asif Ali Zardari.

The sources said a replacement for Musharraf was also discussed but the coalition members could not reach any decision. The Election Commission has announced the presidential polls for Sept 17.

The PPP wants someone from within the party to be next head of state, with the emphasis on National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza. The PML-N and other parties want someone from the smaller provinces and with at least some political activism.

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