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Pakistani Politicians Make Progress in Plan to Reinstate Judges


Partners in Pakistan's ruling coalition say they have made progress in talks on how to reinstate the judges that President Pervez Musharraf fired on November 3, after imposing a six-week emergency rule in the country. From Islamabad, Ayaz Gul reports.

After winning February elections, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the Pakistan Muslim League of another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, had pledged to restore the judges by the end of April.

The self-imposed deadline passed, while top leaders from the two parties where holding intensive talks at a Dubai hotel to narrow differences.

Mr. Sharif dismissed fears of a deadlock and reported "substantive progress" at the end of his two days of discussions Thursday with Asif Ali Zardari, the widower and political successor of Bhutto.

He said that the two sides have agreed to reinstate the judges by passing a simple resolution in the parliament as was pledged in an earlier joint declaration.

"It has been decided and reiterated that the restoration of the judges will take place. There is no ambiguity, there is no doubt about it and you will soon see the results of [our] discussions," he said.

Mr. Sharif said he would announce further details of the agreement Friday, after he returns to Pakistan.

The crucial political talks took place outside the country, because Zardari had gone to see his daughters who live and study in Dubai.

Mr. Sharif has been insisting that partners in the ruling coalition must honor their earlier pledge to reinstate the judges by passing a parliamentary resolution.

But the Pakistan Peoples Party, which leads the coalition, says such a move could cause legal and constitutional challenges for the government. It says the reinstatement of the judiciary must be linked to a package of constitutional reforms in order to avoid legal problems and reduce chances of a confrontation with President Pervez Musharrarf.

Political observes fear if the judges are restored they could revive challenges to the legitimacy of Mr. Musharraf's re-election in October, while he was still the chief of the Pakistani army. This could force the president to use his constitutional powers to dismiss the government and dissolve parliament.

The proposed constitutional package among other things will restrict the judges from reopening old cases and is also expected to strip President Musharraf of his powers to dismiss the government.

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