Coalitions Unite Against Musharraf

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 9, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 8 -- Uncertainty about Pakistan's stability mounted Friday, a day after the ruling coalition said it would move to impeach President Pervez Musharraf.

Politicians across the country appeared to be repositioning themselves as the crisis over the beleaguered country's leadership continued. One of the coalition partners, Pakistan Muslim League-N, said four of its top members would return to their cabinet posts after a three-month hiatus.

Iqbal Jhagra, secretary general of Pakistan Muslim League-N, said the party's leader, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, had decided to rejoin the government as part of a deal with the co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, Asif Ali Zardari.

The move appeared to mend, at least temporarily, fissures within the coalition that erupted in May when Sharif withdrew his party's members from key ministries in protest of Zardari's failure to deliver on a promise to restore Pakistan's broken judiciary.

With several cabinet members now reinstated, Jhagra said he expects impeachment proceedings against Musharraf to begin late next week. He expressed doubt that Musharraf had enough support from the country's military leadership to counter the impeachment drive by dissolving Parliament and declaring a state of emergency.

"We are trying to move as quickly as possible, but let us see how the opposing parties move," Jhagra said. "At the present moment, it does not appear that the army will support him. They will definitely not make any mistake of opposing the will of the people of Pakistan."

There was little word from Musharraf's camp as he continued a second day of meetings with top military leaders. But several media outlets quoted associates of Musharraf as saying he would fight the move to end his nine-year rule.

Zardari, the widower of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and Sharif, who was ousted in Musharraf's 1999 coup, announced their decision to move for impeachment during a joint news conference Thursday.

The measure first requires a majority vote of Parliament before charges against Musharraf can be considered, which many here believe will happen. Less certain is whether the coalition can muster the two-thirds majority, or a total of 295 votes, needed in the National Assembly and Senate to unseat Musharraf.

The parties opposed to Musharraf have a total of 274 members in the National Assembly and the Senate. With about 27 independent Parliament members and the possibility of defections from Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q faction, the vote is expected to be close.

"It is a very difficult time, but at the same time it will be a very historical time if the remainder of the military dictatorship is removed," Jhagra said.

Pakistan's four provincial assemblies are expected to take up a vote of no confidence against Musharraf starting next week, and Musharraf's impeachment will be high on the agenda when Parliament convenes its session Monday in Islamabad.

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