Split looms in Pakistani coalition government
Sunday, 24 August 2008

Reuters, Islamabad- Pakistan's governing coalition was due to hold make-or-break talks on Friday to save the alliance between the country's two main parties, as concern grew that squabbling was keeping them from tackling critical problems.

A day after militants carried out their most deadly strike against the military, killing at least 59 people in suicide blasts outside the country's main defence industry complex, there was no sign of a compromise on a dispute over the judiciary.
 
Investors and allies hoped the resignation of close US friend Pervez Musharraf as president on Monday would end wrangling that has distracted attention from the nuclear-armed country's deteriorating economy and militant violence.
 
But the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and its old rival and main coalition partner, the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, have failed to agree on the restoration of judges Musharraf purged last year.
 
Frustration with the deadlock is growing.
 
"It is truly tragic that Pakistan has fallen repeatedly into the hands of leaders unable to put their own interests on the backburner and place those of the country at the forefront," the News newspaper said in an editorial.
 
Pakistani stocks and the rupee strengthened when Musharraf stepped down but have since weakened as a showdown loomed over the judges.
 
The rupee set a new low of between 76.90 and 77.10 in early trade on Friday while stocks were about 2 percent lower. Pakistan's stock market, which rose for six consecutive years to 2007, and was one of the best-performing markets in Asia in that period, has fallen about 29 percent this year.
 
THREAT
 
Sharif's party threatens to quit the coalition unless a decision is taken on Friday to restore judges dismissed by Musharraf last year.
 
Sharif has already withdrawn his ministers from the cabinet over the dispute and the party's move to the opposition benches in parliament would not force an election, analysts say.
 
Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), parliament's biggest party, should be able to gather enough support to remain in government.
 
Another divisive issue is likely to be the question of the next president. The PPP is proposing Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and is set to make an announcement on his nomination on Friday.
 
The PPP and Sharif's party were bitter rivals during the 1990s when Bhutto and Sharif both served two terms as prime minister.
 
Thrown together by their opposition to Musharraf, differences between the two main parties will loom larger now that he has gone, analysts say.
 
With fighting in Afghanistan intensifying, pressure is also likely to build on Pakistan to act quickly to stop the Taliban launching attacks from sanctuaries in ethnic Pashtun areas on the Pakistani side of the border.
 
But Pakistan faces its own problem with militants, as illustrated by Thursday's twin suicide blasts at the ordnance plant in Wah, 30 km northwest of Islamabad.
 
The Taliban have targeted the military for the past year with a series of bloody attacks on posts, training camps, patrols and buses carrying servicemen and intelligence agency staff.
 
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman said the blasts were retaliation for military operations against militants in the northwestern region of Bajaur, on the Afghan border.

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