- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

ISLAMABAD (AP) - Pakistan’s government on Thursday appealed court rulings against opposition leaders that triggered a political crisis, but the two sides continued to squabble over control of the country’s most powerful province.

The threat of mass anti-government protests brought Pakistan to the brink of chaos over the past week, raising concern in the West that its leaders would lose focus on battling al-Qaida and Taliban militants near the Afghan border.

Last month, the Supreme Court disqualified former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his politician brother Shahbaz from holding elected office because of controversial convictions dating back to the rule of former President Pervez Musharraf.

The court ruling prompted President Asif Ali Zardari to suspend the administration in the critical province of Punjab, handing its control to the federally appointed governor. That infuriated the Sharifs, who accused Zardari of a power grab.

The Sharifs and activist lawyers called off plans to stage an indefinite protest outside the federal Parliament on Monday after the government agreed to file the court appeals and reinstate several judges ousted by Musharraf.

Attorney General Sardar Latif Khosa said the appeals were lodged with the Supreme Court on Thursday and that the government wanted them to be heard as soon as possible.

Shahbaz Sharif had been the chief minister of the Punjab administration, and the Sharifs’ party was dominant in the provincial assembly, though it did not have an outright majority.

Punjab is Pakistan’s most populous and richest province, and whoever controls it has tremendous national influence.

The political parties have been jockeying for position and alliances in case there is a new election for chief minister.

Leaders of a party long linked to Musharraf have suggested they could support both Zardari’s and Sharif’s parties in a three-way coalition. However, at least one bloc of lawmakers from the Musharraf-linked party has come out in favor of supporting only the Sharifs.

That has spurred tensions, and under election rules that bloc’s votes could be tossed out if party leaders challenge them.

Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, meanwhile, has said his rule could end once two political parties can prove an alliance that controls a majority of seats in the assembly.

Whether there actually will be an election or whether Shahbaz Sharif can simply reclaim his position could depend on the courts.

Fauzia Wahab, spokeswoman for Zardari’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party, said Thursday that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was expecting to meet with Shahbaz Sharif. She predicted that the “governor’s rule will end soon” in Punjab, but gave no dates.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide