Pakistani Parties Clash Over Reinstating Judge
The New York Times
By Jane Perlez

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Political order in Pakistan frayed further on Tuesday, the day after President Pervez Musharraf resigned, raising questions about who in the deeply divided civilian government would be in charge and for how long.

The instant deterioration in relations within the government became evident when Nawaz Sharif, the leader of one of the two major parties in the governing coalition, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, walked out of a meeting here over the restoration of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, who had been dismissed by Mr. Musharraf. He then headed back to his home in Lahore, a four-hour drive away.

Party members said Mr. Sharif had delivered an ultimatum to the senior coalition party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, led by Asif Ali Zardari, to consent to the return of the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, within 72 hours, or Mr. Sharif’s party would leave the government. Mr. Chaudhry was among about 60 Supreme Court and other high court judges suspended by Mr. Musharraf last year.

Even by the standards of Pakistan’s hard-boiled and volatile politics, the public discord between the political leaders was surprising, politicians said, a sign that opposition to Mr. Musharraf may have been the strongest thread tying them together.

The departure of Mr. Sharif’s party would greatly weaken the government — at a difficult time in this volatile nuclear power — but would not necessarily mean there would be new elections. Still, the situation did not bode well for future stability, with Pakistan facing a sharply declining economy and an emboldened Taliban insurgency that is fast moving past its sanctuaries in the tribal region and reaching into other parts of the country.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, on Tuesday played down the disputes between the coalition members, predicting that the coalition would hold because all parties remained committed to the political order in place after Mr. Musharraf’s military rule. Coalition governments, he said, are by definition fractious.

“When they come together, there is bound to be disagreement on how to resolve certain issues and how to address certain problems,” he said during a speech at the New America Foundation in Washington.

In an attack within the tribal region on Tuesday, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, a suicide bomber ripped into the emergency room of the district hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, a town near Waziristan, killing 32 people and wounding 55, said the inspector general of the police in North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan. He said there was some evidence that the suicide bomber was linked to Waziristan, the base of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud.

The rupture in the coalition appeared serious, perhaps fatal, said Arif Nizami, the editor of the daily newspaper The Nation, and a friend of Mr. Sharif’s family.

Mr. Sharif was “unlikely to cave,” Mr. Nizami said.

Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif have sharply disagreed over Mr. Chaudhry’s reinstatement ever since they became coalition partners.

Mr. Sharif based his election campaign this year on the reinstatement of the judges suspended by Mr. Musharraf, including the independent-minded Mr. Chaudhry. A poll in June by the International Republican Institute, a Washington-based group, showed that 83 percent of Pakistanis wanted the old Supreme Court reinstated.

But Mr. Zardari has made it clear that he does not want Mr. Chaudhry back on the bench. He prefers the chief justice installed by Mr. Musharraf after he imposed emergency rule in November, Abdul Hamid Dogar, according to lawyers familiar with Mr. Zardari’s thinking.

The lawyers’ movement that grew around Mr. Chaudhry as the ultimate anti-Musharraf symbol in Pakistan regards Mr. Dogar as an illegal appointee.

Mr. Dogar comes from Sindh Province, Mr. Zardari’s political base, and the two men are friendly.

The basis of Mr. Zardari’s opposition to Mr. Chaudhry rests with a fear that he might undo an amnesty agreement that absolved Mr. Zardari of corruption charges, lawyers said. The amnesty, which applies to bureaucrats and politicians who faced corruption charges, was part of a package arranged by Mr. Musharraf when Mr. Zardari returned to Pakistan after his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated in December.
Members of the Pakistan Muslim League-N said Mr. Zardari, in failing to agree to the reinstatement of Mr. Chaudhry, was breaking a written accord made with Mr. Sharif 10 days ago.

The attack in Dera Ismail Khan was part of continuing sectarian strife between Sunni and Shiites, according to Mr. Khan, the police chief. A Shiite man was killed in the town on Tuesday, and as a group of Shiites approached the gates of the emergency room with the body of the dead man, the suicide bomber blew himself up, he said.

Many of the 32 dead were Shiites, Mr. Khan said. Two police officers were also killed, he said.

In another unexpected move after Mr. Musharraf’s resignation, the chief of staff of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, visited the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Tuesday.

The spokesman for the Afghan military, Gen. Zaher Azimi, said General Kayani attended a meeting of the tripartite commission, a body composed of the military leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States-led coalition and NATO forces in Afghanistan. General Kayani’s presence was notable, not only because of its timing so quickly after Mr. Musharraf’s departure, but also because it was believed to be the first time the Pakistani general had attended a meeting of the commission in Kabul since assuming command of the Pakistani military in November.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been particularly tense in the last few months after the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, repeatedly accused Pakistan of helping Taliban fighters cross the border into Afghanistan in order to attack Afghan and NATO troops. The Bush administration has also publicly reprimanded the Pakistanis for their support of the Taliban.

Last month, American officials confronted General Kayani with evidence they said showed that Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, had planned the suicide bomb attack against the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July. General Kayani is the former head of the agency.

There was speculation that General Kayani may have attended the talks in Kabul in response to the increased American pressure.

Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting from Washington.


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