New Pakistan Government May Mean Trouble for U.S.

Pakistani opposition leaders agreed to form a coalition government on Sunday. According to Islamabad-based reporter Graham Usher, this could spell bad news for President Pervez Musharraf and also complicate things for the U.S.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Pakistan's two main opposition parties sealed an agreement today to form a coalition government, something that could spell bad news for America's ally, President Pervez Musharraf. The two opposition leaders also announced that Parliament would reinstate the Supreme Court judges Musharraf had fired.

Reporter Graham Usher is in Islamabad covering the story and joins me now. Thanks for talking to us, Graham Usher.

Mr. GRAHAM USHER (Reporter): Good to be with you.

LYDEN: Tell us about this coalition deal. It involves Asif Zardari, the widower of the slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. How far have Zardari and Sharif gone toward forming a new government?

Mr. USHER: Well, I think, they've basically gone all the way. They were the - the two parties they lead are the biggest winners in last month's election, and on victory they basically declared - they, in principle, wanted to join a national coalition together.

But there have been three weeks in negotiation. This is very a snag. But they seem now to overcome those snags and they have committed to support each other in government. And basically the reason for that, the Pakistan People's Party has agreed to reinstate the 60 or so Supreme Court judges that President Musharraf fired last year during a period of emergency rule. And they'd agreed to do so within 30 days of forming the government.

LYDEN: You seem to suggest that it was a sticking point for the PPP, the Pakistan People's Party, about whether or not the judges should be reinstated. Was it and if so why?

Mr. USHER: The PPP was committed to restore the judiciary as they put it, but they didn't want to commit themselves to reinstate specific judges, especially the chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. According to sources involved in the negotiation, Zardari apparently wanted assurances corruption cases wouldn't be reopened if the judges were reinstated. And it seems that he's got those assurances, which is why he's committed now to reinstate the judges.

LYDEN: This can't be good news for President Musharraf because, after all, he overthrew Nawaz Sharif and sent him into exile, and he was a fierce opponent of Benazir Bhutto. He had to be apprehensive about this from the moment the elections took place.

Mr. USHER: Yes, it's very bad news for President Musharraf. He is now faced with a government and a parliament that is dominated by his political adversaries. He had made it clear that he could work with the Pakistan People's Party. In fact, last year he had entered negotiations with Benazir Bhutto on some kind of power sharing arrangement.

But he has always been opposed to the return of Nawaz Sharif, and most people believe that there will be a confrontation between the new government and the presidency. Both Mr. Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have said, as at the very least, they aim to reduce the presidential powers that Musharraf has powerly(ph) amassed for himself.

It's also bad news for the Bush administration. Basically the United States has had a policy for the last seven years really that has predicated on Musharraf and on the Pakistani army. They have preferred a strong presidency backed by the military. They know that any government that has Nawaz Sharif in it will be one that will be much more sympathetic to the Pakistan Islamic parties and also one that will question Pakistan's role in the American so-called war on terror.

Nawaz Sharif has said publicly he believes at the moment that the Pakistan government under Musharraf was fighting America's war in the tribal areas against the Taliban. And he wants a revision of that.

LYDEN: Graham Usher is a reporter based in Islamabad. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

Mr. USHER: Thank you.

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