The former Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, broke his silence on the recent Supreme Court verdict against the National Reconciliation Ordinance on Saturday to demand that the beneficiaries of this annulled law should resign from their positions in government.
Raising the political temperature considerably, Mr. Sharif, who is the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N), said at a press conference here the government should have dropped the tainted Ministers.
“These people should have gone to the courts and got their names cleared, and they could have been restored to their positions,” he told journalists, after a meeting with senior party members to discuss the political situation in the aftermath of the NRO verdict.
The NRO was promulgated by the former President, Pervez Musharraf, and was aimed at closing corruption cases against the then Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto, to enable her return to the country.
While she did not live long after that, criminal and civil cases against more than 8,000 people were closed under the NRO, including her husband, the present PPP leader and Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari.
Last week the Supreme Court scrapped the ordinance as unconstitutional and ordered the reopening of all the cases that had been closed under it, plunging the government into crisis, as the list of beneficiaries includes Ministers, government and ruling party officials. President Zardari has constitutional immunity from prosecution.
Until now, Mr. Sharif was quiet about the verdict, though individual party members had come out strongly, some also demanding that Mr. Zardari should resign.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani took an olive branch to Mr. Sharif’s brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and a kind of truce was called, with the PML(N) agreeing not to press for Mr. Zardari’s resignation.
It was reported that the Sharifs did not want to do anything that would endanger the democratic system.
But the truce was conditional on the government implementing the NRO verdict in letter and spirit against the beneficiaries. More importantly, Mr. Gilani said his government would hasten to cut back Mr. Zardari’s powers as President, another legacy of the Musharraf-era in the form of the 17th amendment to the Constitution.
In his statements on Saturday, the former Prime Minister did not specifically ask for Mr. Zardari’s resignation, but the implication was there and it came ahead of a planned meeting next week between the two.
Observers believe that Mr. Sharif, who is seen as a moderate in his party, is under pressure from party hawks to take the battle to the PPP camp. Also, it is likely that Mr. Sharif is building pressure on Mr. Zardari ahead of next week’s meeting in order to put forth the PML(N) case for doing away with the 17th amendment.
Mr. Zardari has in the past promised to abolish the amendment, but has dragged his feet over it.
Mr. Sharif lamented on Saturday that an amendment introduced by a military ruler had turned into a problem in the democratic set-up. “A dictator brought in this amendment through fraudulent, and we are now a democracy, but we are still debating what to do with it for the last two-and-a-half years,” he said.