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After Musharraf's Exit, Political, Security Issues

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By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 19 -- As Pakistan's ruling coalition government got off to a new start Tuesday, a day after the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf, political disagreements and a bomb that killed at least 26 people in the country's volatile northwest underlined the challenges faced by the new government.

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The heads of the ruling Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League-N faction met in the capital of Islamabad for a second day of talks on next steps after nearly nine years of military rule. Asif Ali Zardari of the people's party and his counterpart Nawaz Sharif appeared to be at a new impasse over how and whether to restore about 60 judges deposed under Musharraf's government.

Hours after Musharraf announced his resignation in a televised address Monday, Zardari, Sharif and other coalition partners vowed to reinstate the judges. But several officials with knowledge of Tuesday's discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the two men were divided on whether to return Pakistan's Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry to the bench.

Chaudhry catapulted onto the Pakistani political scene last year after Musharraf first suspended then later fired him in an effort to head off a challenge to the legitimacy of his presidency. When Musharraf placed Chaudhry and about 60 other judges under house arrest after declaring a state of emergency in November, he became a leading symbol of the opposition to Musharraf's military government by thousands of black-coated lawyers across the country.

Restoration of the judges, meanwhile, became the chief rallying cry of Sharif's party, which won the second-highest number of seats in Parliament in Pakistan's parliamentary elections Feb. 18.

Musharraf stepped down Monday, nearly nine years after he mounted a bloodless military coup that ended Sharif's second term as prime minister of Pakistan. A bold and sometimes brash leader who fought in two wars against India, Musharraf resigned in the face of impeachment charges lodged by Sharif and Zardari's ruling coalition.

Long a top ally of the United States, Musharraf, 65, appeared to lose the support of his backers in the White House after coalition government leaders called for his ouster nearly two weeks ago. Shortly after he announced his resignation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said his fate was an internal matter for Pakistanis to decide and offered U.S. support for the coalition government.

As congratulations on Musharraf's ouster poured in from across the country for leaders in Islamabad, signs of the enormous security challenges faced by the government seemed to be on the rise. Thousands of refugees from Pakistan's fractious tribal areas were pouring into the northwest city of Peshawar and other cities, displaced by nearly two weeks of skirmishes between soldiers and Islamist insurgents in the Bajaur tribal region. About 200,000 people have been forced from their homes due to the violence.

At least 26 people were killed and 35 injured after a suicide bomber set off a blast near the gates of a hospital in the northwest town of Dera Ismail Khan. Area Police Chief Malik Naveed said the explosion occurred as dozens of relatives and friends of a man recently shot dead near the hospital gathered to protest his killing.

Pakistan's coalition leaders said they plan to meet again Friday to discuss the issue of the judges and the selection of a candidate to replace Musharraf. Parliament has about 30 days before its members vote on a new president.


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