President Musharraf arranged for the return of Benzair Bhutto as well as that of Nawaz Sharif with the understanding both would be allowed to participate in the political arena despite the fact both had been convicted of prior crimes against the state. Sharif is leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N and placed his name in nomination to run for a seat in parliament but the court which was appointed by President Musharaff turned down the request on grounds he had a prior conviction. This has aroused the fury of both the PML-N and the governing Pakistan People’s Party which regard the court decision as invalid.
Pakistan can ill afford a constitutional crisis at this moment in its existence. Hopefully, calm voices will find a way for Nawaz to engage in politics without the need for street demonstrations and threats. It is time for Musharraf to display leadership by urging the courts to change their decision.
The legacy of President Musharraf’s actions last fall when he fired most members of the Pakistan Supreme Court continue to divide Pakistan political leaders. Nawaz Sharif, head of the PML-N party insists he told Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party that he would not join the coalition government unless there was agreement all judges sacked by Musharraf would be restored by May 12. Failure on the part of Zardari to take this step led to Nawaz resigning from the coalition government.
Esentially, Zardari argues the original sacking was illegal and an attempt to now fire judges appointed by Musharraf would also be illegal. He wants the present group of judges to remain even as the sacked judges are restored to their positions. He fears creating a constitutional crisis since the government is working to end conflict in the northwest region with Islamic militants.
There is no question this is a critical moment in Pakistan history and there is need for a coalition government which can resolve conflicts in the northwest and end militant attacks. Perhaps, at the back of his mind is a hope that President Musharraf in the coming months will resign and allow resolution of the judge issues.
President Musharraf last fall removed several judges from the Pakistan Supreme Court because they opposed his attempts to gain complete power. The judges were replaced by another set of judges who were sympathetic to the demands of the president. The Pakistan Muslim League-N- headed by Nawaz Sharif has taken up the fight to restore to power the judges who were sacked and being unable to get their ideas accepted by the current government led by the Pakistan People’s Party, they have resigned their posts. Nawaz said he had joined the coalition government on condition the judges would be restored. PPP co-chair, Asif Zardari, wants to move slowly on this issue. He fears trying to restore the judges would result in the current Pakistan Supreme Court declaring such an action to be illegal and creating a constitutional crisis.
This entire mess was created by President Musharraf’s original illegal action. Nawaz may well be playing to the court of public opinion by casting himself as a noble person who is fighting against the forces of evil. In a sense, he has transformed the PPP from a party opposing Musharraf into one that is supporting him. it is a rather clever ploy, but it runs the risk of creating turmoil at a time when Pakistan needs calm heads in order to deal with a host of problems including dealing with militants in northeast regions of the country.