Editorial: Not a Time for Rivalry
New York Times, May 13, 2008
After an auspicious start, the leaders of Pakistan’s new coalition government have let political rivalries thwart their efforts to rebuild their battered country. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif withdrew his party’s ministers from the cabinet on Monday in a dispute with his rival, Asif Ali Zardari, over when and how to reinstate dozens of dismissed judges.
The judiciary has been at the heart of Pakistan’s roiling political dynamic for a year. At the height of his dictatorial powers, President Pervez Musharraf purged 57 judges, including the chief judge of the country’s Supreme Court. He feared the court would overturn his re-election by the departing Parliament.
The country’s two main opposition parties — led by Mr. Zardari, the widower of the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and Mr. Sharif — won control of Parliament in February, promising to quickly reinstate the judges. But they have not been able to agree since on how to do that.
Mr. Sharif, who was driven from office by Mr. Musharraf, wants the judges restored immediately, by executive fiat, with a clear expectation that they will legally oust the former general. Mr. Zardari, who seems more willing to envision a deal with Mr. Musharraf (as did his late wife), wants the judges restored by an act of Parliament, coupled with judicial reform measures — a process that could take months to play out.
Strong personal rivalries, in abeyance until now, have made this all the more complicated. Mr. Zardari’s party is the senior member of the coalition and has much to lose if Mr. Sharif gets credit for finally toppling Mr. Musharraf. There are also suspicions in Pakistan that the Bush administration is pushing to protect the ex- general, at least for a while longer.
Pakistan needs its judges reinstated quickly. But it also needs the coalition government to hold together. Political leaders who have Pakistan’s interests at heart should be able to find a compromise that restores the judges, promotes much-needed judicial reform and resolves the issue of Mr. Musharraf’s future. One possible solution would be to hold another election — one the deeply unpopular president is certain to lose.
The United States must make clear, finally, that its goal is not to keep Mr. Musharraf in office but to help the civilian government survive and prosper. The new government has many more problems to deal with, including rising food prices, a deepening economic crisis and a resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda.
There are some hopeful signs. Mr. Sharif said his party would continue to back the government. And Pakistan’s Army seems to be living up to its commitment to stay out of politics.
Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif now need to remember that the only one likely to gain from the collapse of the coalition government is the man it sought to marginalize: President Musharraf.