Pakistani Muslim League-N Leader Nawaz Sharif announced today that his party would leave Pakistan’s coalition government to join the opposition bench, after new President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistani Peoples Party reneged on its previous promise to restore some 60 judges ousted by former President Pervez Musharraf, including controversial Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. Former Prime Minister Sharif had issued a Friday deadline for the judges’ restoration, which he later extended to today.

PPP officials harshly condemned Sharif for being too “inflexible” on the judges issue. Though Sharif produced a signed agreement from earlier this month in which Zardari had promised the restoration of the judges, President Zardari defend his position, claiming agreements with the PML-N were not “holy like the Koran” and therefore weren’t binding.

The judges issue stems from a late 2007 State of Emergency declared by then-President Pervez Musharraf, who suspended the Constitution and ousted numerous judges. This led to widespread protests, which were violently put down by government forces. Musharraf’s move was wildly unpopular and led to a disastrous defeat for his PML-Q party allies in February’s election, paving the way for the coalition government.

Though the loss of the PML-N will be gravely damaging to Zardari’s parliamentary majority, it is not expected to lead to the government’s outright collapse or to new elections. On the other hand, the PML-N’s majority in the Punjab Provincial government may be in jeopardy at the loss of the PPP, and reportedly may force them to try to reconcile with the remnants of Musharraf’s PML-Q to maintain a simple majority within the provincial parliament.

Though the weakening of Pakistan’s central government will doubtlessly be of concern, particularly at a time when they are engaged in major battles in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the split may come as something of a relief to the United States, which has long been critical of Sharif. Sharif has been an outspoken critic of America’s influence on Pakistan’s terror war, accusing Musharraf of “blindly following America’s orders,” which he said had drowned the country in blood. He also slammed the US for interfering in Musharraf’s impeachment.

compiled by Jason Ditz

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