Judges should decide president's Fate: Nawaz Sharif
Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Agence France-Presse . Islamabad

Former premier Nawaz Sharif called Monday for Pakistan's ousted judiciary to rule on the legality of president Pervez Musharraf's position before any parliamentary move to impeach him.

Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N formed a coalition with the Pakistan People's Party of slain ex-PM Benazir Bhutto last week, after their groupings trounced Musharraf's backers in parliamentary elections.

They are seeking further allies to get them the two-thirds majority they need to impeach the president, who has repeatedly dismissed calls by Sharif and other opposition leaders to quit.

Musharraf's spokesman, Major General Rashid Qureshi, said the president had been elected for a five-year period last year and that his position should not be determined by the results of the parliamentary elections.

'Except for Nawaz Sharif it is clear that no one else is talking about the president leaving,' Qureshi told Dawn News Television. But Sharif said that top judges sacked by Musharraf under a state of emergency in November should be restored first so that they can decide the legality of Musharraf's re-election as president in October last year.

'Before parliament impeaches him we want this issue resolved by the judiciary... it should not reach that stage,' Sharif told reporters after meeting hardline Islamist politician Qazi Hussain Ahmed in Islamabad.

'On November 3 the judiciary was murdered, that's why we say he is an unconstitutional and illegal president,' Sharif said. He reiterated his call for Musharraf to step down before any action by the courts or the new government.

'Musharraf should quit as soon as possible. It would be better for him because the people have given their mandate,' Sharif said. Pakistan's political crisis was sparked in March last year when Musharraf suspended the country's chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, on charges of misconduct.

He then sacked Chaudhry and dozens of other judges outright on November 3, days before the Supreme Court was due to rule on his re-election by the national and provincial assemblies in October.

The opposition boycotted that vote, saying it was unconstitutional because Musharraf should have quit as army chief before seeking re-election and also because it should not have been carried out by the outgoing assemblies. Musharraf ousted Sharif in a coup in 1999 and sent him into exile the following year.

Sharif returned to Pakistan in late 2007. In Washington, Joe Biden, one of three senators who observed the elections along with former White House hopeful John Kerry and senator Chuck Hagel, discussed Musharraf's options in a television interview.

Asked on ABC television if he thought it would be good for Musharraf to prepare an exit strategy to resign or retire to avoid being forced out by a hostile parliament, Biden said: 'Probably'.

Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper cited an anonymous aide as saying that Musharraf was readying such a strategy after Benazir's Pakistan People's Party and Sharif's party won the elections.

'I firmly believe if they (political parties) do not focus on old grudges – and there's plenty in Pakistan – and give him a graceful way to move' then Musharraf would leave office, Biden added.

The opposition's stance on Musharraf is still unclear. The PPP's most likely candidate to be prime minister, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, was quoted in local media as saying all talk of impeaching Musharraf should wait until the new parliament was sworn in.

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