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Pakistan Coalition Still at Odds on Reinstating Judges


The leader of Pakistan's main ruling party Asif Ali Zardari says there is still disagreement between his Pakistan People's Party and the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on re-instating judges. Nine cabinet members of Mr. Sharif's party submitted resignations last week after the coalition partners failed to meet a deadline to reinstall the judges - but the resignations were not accepted by the government, and Zardari said the two sides would resolve the issue and preserve their six-week old coalition government. VOA's Ravi Khanna spoke with two Pakistan analysts in Washington about the stalemate and its impact on the future of democracy in Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharraf fired scores of senior judges last year after the judiciary questioned the legitimacy of his re-election as president while also serving as army chief.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League, want the unconditional reinstatement of judges. But Asif Ali Zardari, who leads the Pakistan People's Party, wants to link their reinstatement to constitutional reforms. The two sides have failed to meet two deadlines so far to resolve the issue.

A longtime observer of the Pakistani scene, Walter Andersen at the Johns Hopkins University, expresses optimism. "There are some differences. I think it is normal. What I am impressed by is the continuation of the dialogue," he adds.

Andersen says disagreement and negotiations are what democracy is all about. "Democracies are messy, always messy. But what they involve is, they involve negotiations on important issues. And this is an important issue that they are discussing," he noted.

Andersen says Zardari may be reluctant to replace the Musharraf-appointed judges because he benefitted legally when they dropped corruption charges against him. "He was exonerated by special dispensation and that could be taken up again," he said.

Sharif is running for a parliamentary seat in Punjab in upcoming by-elections.

A former U.S. diplomat Teresita Schaffer says, for that reason, Sharif wants quick reinstatement. "I think he feels that this is a principled stand on which the people of Pakistan will back him up. I think he is probably right in that," she says.

Schaffer says although it seems the two leaders are basing their stands on their personal interests, it is not that uncommon in a democracy. "The way leaders behave is a blend of what they think will be good for themselves and their parties, and what they think will be good for the country,” Schaffer says. “And the genius of democracy is that if you have enough competition in that sphere, then more often than not, you can probably wind up pushing the national good ahead."

As for President Pervez Musharaff, Schaffer says he has adopted a wait-and-see strategy. "He wants to remain the president. Secondly he expects the coalition will self-destruct and he will be around to pick up the pieces. This is a strategy, if I am guessing correctly, that relies on patience," adds Schaffer.

Schaffer says the real question for Pakistan is whether the two main leaders of the six-week-old coalition, Zardari and Sharif, still believe that they must stick together in order to provide the country a democratic future.

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