Tussle begins over next Pak President

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By JANE PERLEZ NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE in Islamabad
  • Published 19.08.08
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Islamabad, Aug. 19: Triumphant after the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf, the leaders of the parties in the civilian coalition government gathered here today to discuss candidates for his replacement.

Also on the agenda for the post-Musharraf meeting was how to reinstate 60 judges fired by the former President when he imposed emergency rule last year.

The tussle over who will be the next President could be a drawn out affair, since Asif Ali Zardari, who heads the major partner, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and Nawaz Sharif, the chairman of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), have different preferences, and have skirmished over many issues in the past.

The two men have also disagreed strongly over the restoration of the judges, particularly the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was fired by Musharraf more than a year ago.

The question of the restoration of the judges was already proving a sticking point today, and in the aftermath of the successful removal of Musharraf, threatened to derail the unusual solidarity the coalition achieved in the past 10 days.

Zardari — who signed an agreement 10 days ago with Sharif to restore the judges within 72 hours of Musharraf’s removal — and his party, were “now dragging their feet” on the restoration of Chaudhry, according to Arif Nizami, the editor of the daily newspaper, The Nation.

The editor, who is close to Sharif, said he doubted the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, would cave on the issue of Chaudhry. Chaudhry became a symbol of the anti-Musharaff campaign, and has been the centre of attention of the lawyers movement, which demands his restoration.

Musharraf fired the 60 judges after imposing an emergency decree last November. Zardari, as well as many bureaucrats and politicians, is the beneficiary of an amnesty on corruption charges that was agreed to by Musharraf on Zardari’s return from exile earlier this year.

Zardari has been advised that Chaudhry might attempt to undo the amnesty if he was restored as Chief Justice, leading Zardari to fear the return of the notoriously independent minded Chaudhry to the bench.

Another complicating factor is the appointment during the emergency of Abdul Hamid Dogar as Chief Justice to replace Chaudhry. Dogar comes from Sindh province, the political base of Zardari, and the two men are known to be on friendly terms.

Once the issue of the judiciary is settled, the coalition would turn to nominating a President. Among the names being put forward by the PPP for the presidency were the Speaker of the National Assembly, Fehmida Mirza, and Aftab Shaaban Mirani, a PPP stalwart. Zardari is known to want the job. But whether Mr. Sharif would accede to that appeared doubtful.