Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government collapsed on Monday, as the leaders of the main two coalition parties turned their sights on each other, only a week after banding together to force the resignation of Pervez Musharraf.
The coalition’s failure, after only five months of leading Pakistan, worsened the leadership crisis in this nuclear-armed nation at a time when it faces a serious threat from the growing strength of the Taliban in the northwestern parts of its territory.
Now the deepening rivalry between the two party leaders — Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister himself — will play out in the coming elections for president.
Zardari, leader of the larger Pakistan Peoples Party, decided last week to run for the office — one of several reasons why Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Muslim League-N, gave for leaving the coalition and naming his own candidate. Sharif said that Zardari, relatively new to day-to-day politics though increasingly influential inside Pakistan and with Washington, had broken several promises that made it impossible for him to stay in the government.
“We have been forced to leave the coalition,” Sharif said in a news conference here in the capital. “We joined the coalition with full sincerity for the restoration of democracy. Unfortunately, all the promises were not honored.”
The departure of Sharif, whose party sat uneasily with the Pakistan Peoples Party, is unlikely to result in immediate nationwide elections. The PPP holds the most seats in the Parliament, but not a majority.
Political analysts said that they expected the party would be able to cobble together a new parliamentary coalition with smaller parties. Sharif said his members would sit in the opposition in the Parliament and try to play a constructive role.
Meantime, voting for president — who is not chosen by direct elections but by the Parliament and four provisional assemblies — is scheduled for Sept. 6.
With Sharif and Zardari’s common foe gone and their pragmatic unity crumbling, the main problem between them remains a profound disagreement over the future of the former chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. Chaudhry was fired by Musharraf in March 2007, reinstated by the court in July and placed under house arrest in November.
He was finally freed in March of this year, but has yet to be restored to the bench.
Sharif has insisted that Chaudhry — along with some 60 other judges, who were also fired in November when Musharraf declared emergency rule — be restored to the bench.
To drive home the point about broken promises, Sharif released an accord signed by him and Zardari on Aug. 7.
The document shows that they agreed that all the judges would be restored by an executive order one day after Musharraf’s impeachment or resignation. But Zardari stalled.
In an interview with the BBC Urdu-language radio service on Saturday, Zardari defended his position, saying agreements with the Pakistan Muslim League-N were not “holy like the holy Quran.”