Friday, March 13, 2009

Pak crisis deepens, Sharif remains defiant

KARACHI: Pakistan's political crisis deepened on Thursday with a defiant Nawaz Sharif rebuffing ruling PPP government's offers for talks as police lathicharged activists and detained politicians and lawyers who demanded immediate reinstatement of sacked judges.

Jamaat-e-Islami leader Ghafoor Ahmed and Karachi Bar Association President Muhammad Ali Abbasi were among over 350 political activists and lawyers detained across the country.

There were indications of a possible showdown between President Asif Ali Zardari and his one-time ally Sharif who accused the government of not doing anything to undo what the "kangaroo" courts have done.

"Talks with President Zardari are possible only after he reinstates the judges as promised to us earlier," Sharif said pressing his demand for restoration of independent-minded judges removed by then President Pervez Musharraf during emergency rule in 2007.

Some of them could turn hostile to Zardari, who for this reason, may not have pushed hard for their re-induction, said a report.

Sharif's comments came after the government struck a conciliatory tone and expressed its readiness for talks and said it was "in principle" not against the 'Long March' set off by the protestors from Karachi to Islamabad.

Government had told the protestors to culminate their march at an alternate site other than outside Parliament House but this was not acceptable.

Tensions between the former allies escalated after the Supreme Court recently barred Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, from contesting polls and holding public offices, resulting in Shahbaz's removal as Punjab chief minister.

The government ban on demonstrations and processions, earlier limited to Sindh and Punjab provinces, was on Thursday extended to the whole of the country.

Already on the backfoot, Zardari is facing heat from several quarters. Sharif has gone on the offensive and there are reports that Army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani is unhappy with the President's functioning and wants him to quickly clear the political mess.
Sharif sought to dispel Western fears of an army rule saying chances of such a takeover are "absoluteoly nil".

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, handpicked by Zardari for the key post, has also made known his disapproval of certain actions of the president.

Zardari also faces trouble from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) with extremist elements tightening their stranglehold.

"The president got the Supreme Court to make me and Shahbaz ineligible to contest elections and further went ahead to impose governor's rule in Punjab when there was no breakdown of law and order in the state," Sharif, who held the PM's post twice, said.

This was disputed by interior ministry chief Rehman Malik who said "we didn't know that the Supreme Court will disqualify them".

Source: TOI

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