Musharraf foes strike a deal in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: The leaders of the two major political parties, in an unexpectedly strong show of unity against President Pervez Musharraf, agreed Sunday that they would reinstate the judges fired by the president and would seek to strip him of crucial powers.
The accord created a direct threat to Musharraf because the restored judges could act on petitions challenging the validity of his re-election last October when he was still head of the army. Musharraf's critics contend he dismissed the judges last November for the very reason that he was fearful they would invalidate his presidency.
The deal, announced by Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the biggest party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, and Nawaz Sharif, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, also dashed the hopes of the Bush administration that Parliament would work in harmony with Musharraf.
The White House considers Musharraf a favored ally in the American fight against militants aligned with Al Qaeda and the Taliban who have regrouped in Pakistan, but Musharraf is deeply unpopular here.
Musharraf had no comment on the accord. As of late Sunday in Washington, the State Department and the White House also had no comment.
Zardari and Sharif, appearing at a news conference together in the Himalayan foothill resort area of Bhurban, said they would implement a Charter for Democracy that included removing the president's power to dissolve Parliament and his power to appoint the chiefs of the military services.
The judges who were fired Nov. 3 after the imposition of emergency rule by Musharraf would be reinstated by a parliamentary resolution within 30 days of the convening of the new Parliament, they said.
Parliament would then pass a law voiding the ruling by the post-November Supreme Court that had legalized the dismissal of the judges, said Ashtar Ausaf Ali, a lawyer who drafted the resolution and is a senior member of the Pakistan Muslim League-N. The agreement settled important differences that had clouded the postelection atmosphere after the successes of Zardari's and Sharif's parties in the February elections, in which Musharraf's party was routed.
Zardari, widower of the slain party leader, Benazir Bhutto, had seemed to stall on Sharif's insistence that the judges be reinstated, apparently out of fear that the judges would reopen corruption cases filed against him in the 1990s.
He was also under pressure, associates said, from the United States and Britain not to agree to the reinstatement as chief justice of Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who has been criticized by diplomats for being unpredictable on matters of terrorism.
For his part, Sharif had indicated that members of his party would not sit in the cabinet while Musharraf remained in power. But on Sunday, Sharif, reading in English a "summit declaration," said, "The coalition partners are ready to form the governments, and the national and provincial assemblies should be convened immediately."
It is up to Musharraf to convene Parliament. On Friday, at a time when agreement between the two parties seemed somewhat distant, the president said he would call the Parliament in 10 days "if there was peace in the country."
Sharif, who was twice prime minister in the 1990s, said his party would participate in the cabinet that would be dominated by the Pakistan Peoples Party, the largest vote getter in the February elections. He appeared to accept the idea that his cabinet members would have to take the oath of office from Musharraf, an act Sharif had previously said he would oppose.
Sharif was overthrown in October 1999 in a bloodless military coup by then-General Musharraf, and holds a particular enmity against the president, who he says should resign. Musharraf stepped down as the head of the army in December.
After the joint announcement, a lawyer who is active in the lawyers movement that has mobilized in favor of the restoration of the judges, Athar Minallah, said he was confident that the justices, including Chaudhry, would be reinstated.
"I don't see any hurdle in the restoration of the judges now," he said. "It's a positive day for democracy in this country."
The reinstatement of the dismissed judges of the Supreme Court and four High Courts in the provinces would represent a special danger to Musharraf because the courts would probably be presented with new petitions seeking to overturn the president's re-election in October, lawyers said.
The lawyers' movement, led by Aitzaz Ahsan, has argued that Musharraf's re-election by the national and provincial assemblies while he held the post of army chief was unconstitutional.
Ali said he had prepared a draft of the parliamentary resolution that Sharif and Zardari said would be passed by a simple majority within 30 days of the opening of Parliament.
The draft resolution has been approved by senior members of both parties, Ali said. It refers to the dismissal of the judges and says in part that it "resolves to undo all illegal and unconstitutional and immoral acts of the usurper and calls upon the chief executive to take all necessary measures for redeeming the honor of the judges and reversing extra-constitutional measures."
The "usurper," Ali said, was a reference to Musharraf. The chief executive was a reference to the prime minister.
Once the resolution was passed, Parliament would pass a law overturning the ruling by the post-Nov. 3 Supreme Court that had validated the dismissal of the judges, Ali said. Parliament in Pakistan has the power to void judgments of the Supreme Court, he said.
The other efforts to weaken Musharraf's authority were contained in the Charter for Democracy, a document that Sharif signed with Bhutto in London in 2006 when the two were in exile. Sharif and Zardari said they would enact the charter.
The charter is intended to bring Pakistan back to a civilian democratic form of government. Under the eight years of Musharraf's military rule the power of the presidency had expanded at the expense of Parliament. Pakistan has swung between civilian and military governments for much of its 60-year history.
In particular, Musharraf secured a constitutional amendment in 2002 that gave him the right to dissolve Parliament. The Charter for Democracy calls for that presidential prerogative to be abolished.
To reverse the 2002 amendment, Parliament needs to pass a new constitutional amendment, and that requires a two-thirds majority, Minallah said.
At the moment, the two major coalition partners appear to be 10 votes short of that majority. But the strength of Sunday's accord was likely to attract independents and smaller parties to the anti-Musharraf cause in Parliament, Minallah said.
The 2002 constitutional amendment under which Musharraf won the right as president to appoint the chiefs of the military services would also be overturned, Ali said. The right to appoint the army chiefs would be handed back to the prime minister.
One question that remained unsettled was the choice of prime minister.
As the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament, Zardari would choose the prime minister from his party, Sharif said.
The names of several prominent politicians in the Pakistan Peoples Party who hold parliamentary seats in Punjab Province have been floated in recent days as possible nominees.
They include Ahmed Mukhtar, a commerce minister during Bhutto's second term as prime minister. He is a top executive of the Servis Group, an industrial conglomerate based in Punjab Province.
Mukhtar, a close friend of Zardari's, scored an upset victory in the recent elections over one of Musharraf's closest confidants, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, the party that supported Musharraf for the last eight years and was crushed in the February vote.