Zardari: Sharif need not resign

Supporters of Tahirul Qadri shout anti-government slogans in front of the Parliament in Islamabad.

Supporters of Tahirul Qadri shout anti-government slogans in front of the Parliament in Islamabad.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried on Saturday to rally political support from rival and former President Asif Ali Zardari as protests demanding his resignation continued in front of the country’s Parliament.

Imran Khan and Tahirul-Qadri have led thousands of supporters demonstrating outside the legislature this week calling for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to go.

Zardari, political supremo of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), threw his weight behind the continuation of the present Parliament.

He said democracy “should not be derailed,” a rebuke to the protest movement aimed at unseating Pakistan’s premier.

Briefing journalists after Zardari-Nawaz meeting, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said Zardari had assured his full support to Sharif in resolving the crisis within the limits of the constitution and law.

Answering a question whether Zardari had asked Sharif to resign, Dar said: “There is no question of the premiers resignation. Rather he (Zardari) extended his fully support to the premier.”

Zardari flew in from Dubai on Friday evening and held talks with Sharif in Lahore on Saturday.

Zardari threw his weight behind the continuation of the present parliament saying democracy “should not be derailed,” a rebuke to the protest movement aimed at unseating Pakistan’s premier.

“Political forces should solve their problems within themselves through talks. Democracy should not be derailed,” Zardari told reporters after his meetings with Sharif and other politicians.

Khan insists the May 2013 general election, which swept Sharif to power in a landslide, was rigged and therefore the prime minister should step down, though observers rated the vote free and credible.

The standoff has raised fears of possible military intervention in the country, which has seen three coups since its creation in 1947.

The government has insisted Sharif will not resign.

“Whatever the solution is, it should be within constitution and law. Prime Minister’s resignation is out of question,” Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Saturday.

Qadri and Khan’s protest movements are not formally allied and have different goals, beyond toppling the government. But their combined pressure — and numbers — have given extra heft to the rallies.

But if one group were to reach a settlement with the government and withdraw, the other’s position would be significantly weakened.

But the ongoing talks have failed to offer a quick solution.

Representatives from both government and Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) told reporters after the latest meeting that they could not agree on the basic demand of Prime Minister’s resignation.

In an attempt to trigger a raft of by-elections, the PTI — the third largest party in the National Assembly — has submitted resignation letters for their 34 lawmakers.

The letters will be opened and verified Monday, speaker Ayaz Sadiq told private Geo television.

The ongoing political paralysis has led to fears Pakistan’s powerful army may step in.

Analysts say the army is more likely to use the crisis to assert influence behind the scenes than stage an outright power grab.

But if a full-blown coup d’etat looks unlikely — such a move could jeopardize billions of dollars in foreign assistance and trade deals — analysts say the crisis will leave Sharif weakened.

Sharif has a history of testy relations with the military — his second term as prime minister ended abruptly in 1999, when then-army chief Pervez Musharraf seized power in a coup.

 
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