‘Sharif’s anti-Musharraf stance can isolate him’

February 23rd, 2008 - 9:18 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, Feb 23 (IANS) Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party that secured second position in Monday’s parliamentary elections may be isolated in the new scenario if he refuses to work with President Pervez Musharraf, a senior government official said Saturday. “There are remote chances of Sharif coming to power and if he refused to join the set-up headed by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and to work with President Musharraf he may be isolated,” the senior official told IANS requesting anonymity.

While PPP won 87 seats in the National Assembly out of the 268 seats contested in the 342-member house, Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 67.

Elections to four seats could not be held because of law and order situation in two tribal area constituencies and death of two candidates including former prime minister Benazir Bhutto of PPP in a gun and bomb attack Dec 27.

Sixty seats are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims that will be divided among the winning parties on a proportional representation system.

Though Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari and Sharif have announced they will work together for democracy and against dictatorship, there are very little chances of both parties jointly forming a government as they differ on basic issues.

Zardari has expressed his willingness to work with Musharraf while Sharif says he can’t think of going along with the president who ousted his government in 1999 and sent him into exile for seven years.

The other bone of contention between Zardari and Sharif is restoration of former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and other senior judges who were sacked by Musharraf after imposition of emergency on Nov 3.

“The first executive order of the new government should be restoration of judges,” Sharif insists while Zardari has termed it a minor issue promising to give independence to judiciary.

Western envoys in Islamabad, on the other hand, have continued meetings with both Zardari and Sharif amid mounting worries about Musharraf’s political future with the US clearly saying he should stay in power.

Musharraf’s future was at stake after his Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) could not muster enough support to form the government and could secure only 39 seats in the National Assembly.

The meetings, mainly of American and British ambassadors with the PPP and PML-N leadership, have led to speculations about possible advice to the makers of the future government to try to co-exist with Musharraf despite years of mutual hostility.

Both Zardari and Sharif and officials of the western diplomats who met these leaders have been saying that they talked about transition to democracy and counter-terrorism. However, these meetings indicate the West’s concerns about the future of Pakistan’s key role in the so-called war on terror.

US ambassador Anne W. Paterson Friday had a second contact with PPP co-chairman Zardari within a few days, though this time accompanied by a Congressional delegation that earlier met Musharraf.

British high commissioner Robert Brinkley held a second meeting with Sharif Friday but, soon after the meeting, the former prime minister told reporters that “sooner he (Musharraf) left the better”.

“Musharraf is worried about his future and he’s ready to go to any extent to stay in power…It’s better for the country and Sharif to consider working with him,” said the Pakistani official.

According to him, Sharif is also under pressure from the Saudi authorities who helped his return to the country before elections. “We know they (Saudis) are in touch with Sharif and trying to persuade him not to put Musharraf in trouble,” said the official.

However, whoever forms the government will try to clip Musharraf’s powers as president under which he can dissolve parliament and can appoint or sack military services chiefs. Without these sweeping powers he would be a figurehead who can only act on the advice of a prime minister.

Meanwhile, the lawyers’ threat to organise a big march here March 9 if the pre-Nov 3 judiciary is not restored is likely to put the elected parties to test.

These parties are unlikely to have formed a coalition government by that time but they will have to make a commitment to the lawyers or risk their honeymoon being spoiled by the agitation.

There are other efforts afoot to bring together PPP, PML-Q, Mutahida Qaumi Movement that has 19 seats and the Awami National Party with nine seats, which together will have the simple majority required to form a government.

In such a situation, Sharif’s party legislators will have to sit in the opposition benches and there is speculation that some of his elected members can be wooed by the treasury benches as was done in 2002.

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