The lion lies down with the lamb
Mar 13th 2008, The Economist
Astounding many, two old rivals say they will rule together
CYNICS have been silenced, at least for now. They said Pakistan's two biggest and always quarrelling political parties, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML(N)), could not govern together. But on March 9th their respective leaders, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, the biggest winners in a general election held last month, declared that they would do so.
The Murree declaration, as their agreement has been called, after the pretty hill-station near Islamabad where the two men met, is a promise to share power in the federal government and in Punjab, Pakistan's richest province. As an act of political co-operation, this was remarkable. After all, the PPP, which won the most votes in the election, was in a position to form a government in Islamabad with other allies, as the PML(N) could have done in Punjab. Yet it is difficult to rule Pakistan without also controlling Punjab. That was the experience of Mr Zardari's late wife, Benazir Bhutto, a two-time former prime minister murdered on the campaign trail in December. Her first government collapsed in 1990 partly under duress from the then leader of Punjab—Mr Sharif.
So Mr Zardari has been wise to accommodate an erstwhile rival. Thereby he might seem to have accepted one of Mr Sharif's dearest demands: the restoration of 60 judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf during the state of emergency called in November. Unlike the more conciliatory Mr Zardari, Mr Sharif (whose electoral symbol was a lion) has pitched himself into fierce opposition to ex-General Musharraf, who imprisoned him in 1999. In an ominous sign for the demobbed president, the two party leaders vowed that within 30 days of forming a government, they would pass a parliamentary resolution restoring the fallen judges.
Mr Sharif has also made concessions. After his party came a surprisingly close second in the poll, he decreed that none of its members would enter Parliament under a constitution that Mr Musharraf has several times rewritten—or enter the government while Mr Musharraf remained president. He has backed down on both. And he may not get his wish to see the reinstatement of the fallen judges. As things stand, only a constitutional amendment can do this, and the PPP and PML(N) do not have the necessary majority in Parliament's upper house. For the same reason, they would not be able to impeach Mr Musharraf—as Mr Sharif has sworn to do.
Legal activists want the next government to restore the judges by decree. The judges might then legitimise this legally dubious step—or so it is argued. They might also re-examine the legality of Mr Musharraf's presidential re-election last year, which the Supreme Court had been due to rule on in November when Mr Musharraf demolished it.
But this ploy could backfire on Pakistan's new leaders. The current Supreme Court justices, hand-picked stooges of Mr Musharraf, might, for example, order the army to intervene to save their hides. On March 6th, however, the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, said he hoped the army would not be dragged into any “unnecessary controversy”. And the Murree declaration, which says nothing about Mr Musharraf, seems more a statement of intent to restore the judges than a promise. Pakistan's next leader will anyway have more to worry about—terrorism, for example—than the future of an unloved former dictator. Twin suicide blasts in Lahore on March 11th killed 24 and injured over 100.
Parliament is expected to convene on March 17th, and a prime minister should be nominated by March 20th. It will not be Mr Zardari or Mr Sharif, both of whom were barred from contesting the election. It is likely to be a trusted PPP friend of Mr Zardari—pending, perhaps, his own imminent victory in a by-election, and ascent to his dead wife's rightful throne.