Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan's Sharif Suffers Setbacks under Pressure from Opposition

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan's Sharif Suffers Setbacks under Pressure from Opposition

Article excerpt

PAKISTAN'S opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, is increasing the pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The opposition parties have called upon their supporters to come to the capital of Islamabad on July 16 to join a "long march" against the government.

Mr. Sharif has had to fend off a lot of challenges lately. In April he was removed from office by Pakistani President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on charges of corruption. But the Supreme Court restored him to office 39 days later, ruling that the presidential action was unjustified.

Recent efforts to improve relations between the government and the opposition have failed. In June, Sharif appointed a committee to negotiate with ministers appointed by Ms. Bhutto, but no progress was made.

The setback has partly been caused by Sharif's reluctance to concede ground even on what the opposition calls symbolic issues. Court cases filed against Bhutto when her government was dismissed have neither been proved nor withdrawn by the government.

Other signs of trouble for the Sharif government include tensions with Mr. Khan, once Sharif's mentor.

At least two of the country's four provinces have turned hostile to the Sharif government. The provincial governments in the Punjab - home to almost 60 percent of Pakistanis - and the Northwest Frontier Province are openly supporting the opposition's call. The chief ministers and governors in both provinces are known to be loyal to Khan.

Sharif and Khan have remained bitter foes since April, when Sharif was removed from office. The two leaders met with each other twice on July 12, but the meetings left differences unresolved, according to senior government officials.

"Our politics have suffered in the past due to confrontation. What is more, is that due to this confrontation among the political forces, in the ultimate analysis, it is the antidemocratic forces who benefit and the political forces who are representatives of the people who suffer" said Sharif recently, warning about the consequences of a political breakdown.

The opposition also wants Sharif to hand over power to a neutral bipartisan government consisting of representatives from the opposition and hold fresh elections. …

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