ISLAMABAD (AFP) May 13, 2008. Pakistan faced a new political crisis on Tuesday after former premier Nawaz Sharif pulled his party's ministers out of the country's six-week-old coalition government, officials said.
The nine ministers from Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) stepped down after the coalition failed to meet a Monday deadline on how and when to reinstate judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf last year.
The eventual reinstatement of the judges is likely to cause a major headache for embattled former army chief Musharraf, a key US ally, who considers them hostile to his rule.
The ministers had submitted their resignations to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, PML-N spokesman Siddiqul Farooq said, insisting they would only return if the Pakistan People's Party took "concrete" steps to resolve the issue.
"If the PPP takes concrete steps to restore the judiciary to the position of November 2 (before emergency rule), we will revert to our party's central working committee to seek advice given the changed circumstances," he told AFP.
"Our ministers may rejoin the cabinet if so advised."
The move is likely to trigger political uncertainty, although Sharif insisted on Monday that his party would continue to support the government of Gilani, who had not yet accepted the resignations, according to state media.
The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of slain former premier Benazir Bhutto, the senior partner in the coalition that swept into power following February general elections, said it hoped the PML-N ministers would soon return.
"Let's wait and try to resolve the matter," Gilani told the outgoing ministers, saying Pakistan was in the grip of a "serious crisis."
"We are determined to take the nation out of the crisis, with the cooperation of our allies," state media quoted him as saying, appealing to the judiciary to show "some flexibility" to stave off political upheaval.
Gilani also spoke to Sharif by telephone, who told him that the decision to pull his party from government was "painful," and that he would continue to cooperate with the government.
Musharraf, who came to power following a coup in 1999, deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and dozens of other judges in November when it appeared they might overturn his re-election as president the month before.
The judges were also to rule on a decree issued by Musharraf granting amnesty to political leaders charged with corruption. PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, himself is a beneficiary of the law.
Sharif and Zardari agreed in March to restore the judges, but differences quickly arose over how to put them back on the bench.
A series of crunch talks between the two sides failed to resolve the stalemate.
"We have no differences with the PML-N over the restoration of the judiciary. The only point of disagreement is the method of restoration," Information Minister Sherry Rehman said in a statement.
"They have taken the decision in line with their pledge to step aside if the judges' issue was not resolved on time. This is their democratic right and we respect this," Rehman said, stressing that the PPP was open to further talks.
The cabinet posts left vacant by the PML-N members will not be filled, she added.
PPP sources said the administration could survive with the support of smaller parties.