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Zardari crafting his own ouster, says Nawaz
Long march to continue ‘at any cost’
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif has said Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari was shortening his tenure by reneging on his promises and thwarting the popular will on independence of judiciary and repeal of 17th Amendment.

“I want him to stay in power for full five years without asking anything for myself. But, I believe he is pursuing policies that will soon lead to his ouster,” Sharif said in a TV interview to Geo channel on Friday.

Pakistan, said the former premier, was facing some of the gravest crises in its history, which needed urgent resolution but there was no indication that Zardari realised that. He praised Prime Minister Gilani as a “well-intentioned person who had been talking sensibly on judges’ restoration”, the Supreme Court decision disqualifying him (Nawaz) and Shahbaz Sharif and the imposition of governor’s rule in Punjab. “But Zardari seems to paying no heed to his advice.”

“I will now expect Gilani to take things into his hands and take tough decisions on major issues. We assure him our support and that the entire nation will firmly stand behind him if he asserts himself,” Sharif said.

The former premier confirmed reports that he had received credible information about plans to assassinate him during current campaign for restoration of deposed judges. Still, he said, he was determined to lead the long march, which would start from Lahore on March 15 and reach Islamabad the next day, followed by an indefinite ‘dharna’ outside the (Pakistan) parliament.

Taking note of the government’s heavy-handed methods to obstruct the march and put hurdles in every city, besides arresting hundreds of lawyers and political activists, he said: “These tactics will never succeed and the movement for restoration of deposed judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, will be resumed soon if the current plans are thwarted through brute use of force.”

The PML-N chief said the ruling PPP could not have formed the government at the Centre without the PML-N support. “Zardari also sought his help for ousting Musharraf and had clearly stated that he was not a candidate for the presidency. But like his other pledges he backed out on this as well.”

Nawaz said Zardari had agreed with him that if the PPP put up its candidate for the presidency, the 17th Amendment would be repealed prior to that. He said his most painful experience of life had been the way he trusted Zardari and let him back out on all pledges.

On a query about foreign diplomats meeting him, he said the US and the UK wanted Pakistani political forces to work together.

US ambassador Anne Patterson met Sharif for nearly two hours on Thursday morning. In the evening, US President Barack Obama’s special representative for the region, Holbrooke, had a lengthy telephonic conversation with Zardari and Sharif in an apparent bid to defuse the crisis. Holbrooke made it clear that the Obama administration was opposed to strong-arm methods to obstruct peaceful long march and arrests of political activists.

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