Sharif flies to Dubai for Pakistan coalition talks
Thursday, 01 May 2008

HTML clipboardREUTERS, Islamabad - Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Dubai on Tuesday for a crucial meeting to decide if his party should stay in a month-old coalition with the party of the late Benazir Bhutto.

Sharif is expected to meet Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower and leader of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP), on Wednesday to try to break a deadlock over reinstating judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf late last year.

"I want from the core of my heart that this coalition should last. I'm going to fulfill my national and moral obligations," Sharif told reporters at the airport before leaving for Dubai.

After their parties trounced Musharraf's political allies in a parliamentary poll in February, Zardari and Sharif forged a post-election alliance and pledged to restore the judges within 30 days of the government being sworn in. The deadline expires on Wednesday.

The PPP leadership is dragging its feet over the issue, and wants to tie reinstatement to a constitutional reform package. The package contains proposals that would effectively sideline some deposed judges, including Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Supreme Court chief justice who became a cause celebre for defying pressure from Musharraf to quit in March 2007.

Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or PML-N, wants all the judges reinstated unconditionally. While Sharif did not say what he would do if talks failed, his party leaders have said they could pull out of the cabinet though they would not withdraw support for the government. "We have the option of resigning from the cabinet if stalemate persisted," Siddiq-ul-Farooq, a PML-N spokesman, said.


The alliance between the PPP and PML-N marked the first time Pakistan's two mainstream parties have come together, and raised hopes they would assert civilian rule in place of the military-bureaucratic establishment that Musharraf represents.

Any cracks in the coalition would heighten concern that nuclear-armed Pakistan will face prolonged political instability at a time when it is facing challenges from Islamist militancy and acute economic problems.

The Karachi Stock Exchange's benchmark 100-share index shed one percent on Tuesday due to fears about the coalition's future, and it is now 2.6 percent off a life high struck on April 21. Zardari flew to Dubai at the weekend to see his daughters.

On Monday, Sharif sent four aides to Dubai to meet Zardari, but Pakistani television networks reported that the two sides could not break the deadlock in their two rounds of talks, leaving Sharif with little option but to go himself.

Analysts say Bhutto's party is cautious about restoring Chaudhry because last October he had admitted legal challenges to a pardon Musharraf granted Bhutto and Zardari to allow them to return to Pakistan without fear of prosecution in a slew of graft cases they always maintained were politically motivated.

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