Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif says his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N has quit the ruling coalition government because its main partner, the Pakistan People's Party, has broken several key policy promises. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad the announcement ends a partnership that just one week ago successfully pressured President Pervez Musharraf to resign.
Pakistan's ruling coalition government has been deadlocked for months over whether it would restore more than 40 top judges who were fired by President Musharraf. In recent weeks, the coalition rallied around its opposition to the president and ended his nearly nine-year rule through a carefully orchestrated series of no confidence votes.
But that powerful unity was short-lived. Nawaz Sharif said his party is quitting the coalition because the Pakistan People's Party broke pledges about restoring the judiciary and deciding who would be the next president.
"These repeated violations have forced us to withdraw our support from the ruling coalition and sit on the opposition benches," said Sharif. "However, we will play a constructive role in light of the charter of democracy and continue our struggle for the restoration of judges and genuine democracy in Pakistan."
At one point during the news conference in Islamabad he waved a document he said showed PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari's signature on one of the broken agreements.
Sharif said among the unfulfilled deals was a plan for nominating a neutral presidential candidate if the far-reaching powers that Pervez Musharraf had bestowed on the president's office were not changed.
The Pakistan Peoples Party named Asif Ali Zardari its presidential candidate in recent days. Sharif said the PML-N is nominating a retired judge, Said-uz Zaman Siddiqui, to run against him.
Several Pakistan People's Party officials disputed Mr. Sharif's version of the coalition's differences, but PPP spokesman Faratullah Babar was hopeful the two would be able to reconcile.
He says the leader of the Pakistan People's Party has said we will not disturb Sharif's party's government in Punjab province and we expect the same from him in the National Assembly. He says we are hopeful they will return to the coalition.
Other key members of the ruling coalition said they will continue to support the Pakistan People's Party, maintaining the PPP-led majority in parliament. But the departure of Sharif's party deprives the coalition of an automatic two-thirds majority of seats required to pass constitutional amendments.
The political split comes during a time of worsening security in Pakistan, with more than 80 people killed in suicide bombings in the past week and more than 250,000 people fleeing a military offensive against Taliban militants in Bajaur tribal agency.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's interior ministry announced it is formally banning the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan militant group. The action gives the government broader powers to prosecute associates and fundraisers of the banned militia, which claimed credit for a string of attacks across Pakistan in the last year.
The former secretary of the interior ministry, Tasneem Noorani, who was involved in banning several militant groups in recent years, said that in the past, militant groups that mainly operated in the tribal agencies were not placed on banned lists because the anti-terror laws do not apply in the semi-autonomous region.
He told VOA that the designation indicates the government is concerned the group is expanding its influence into settled areas of the country.
"That is certainly one of the points," said Noorani. "Because if they do any activity in the settled area then the anti-terrorist law would become that much more important. And if there are people sympathetic to them in settled areas, like in central Punjab or in Sindh, then those people could be put under severe pressure."
Noorani says the designation gives the government another tool, in addition to military action and peace agreements, to try to counter the growing militant threat.