ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – President Pervez Musharraf is not about to quit, a senior ally said Monday, a day after opponents agreed to form a government and restore judges who had questioned the legality of the former army chief continuing in office.
The declaration by the winners of Feb. 18 elections immediately heightened expectation that the unpopular, U.S.-allied president could be on the way out. "Moment of Truth for President Musharraf," read a headline in the respected Dawn newspaper.
But the parties of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and another ex-premier, Nawaz Sharif, still lack the two-thirds parliamentary majority need to impeach the president, and it remains unclear exactly how they can reinstate the sacked justices.
Tariq Azim, a former minister and Musharraf ally, forecast that the victorious parties would ease their rhetoric against the president as they settle into government.
"They will have to first stabilize themselves. In the process of stabilizing themselves, they will deal with the president and maybe the long-running rift between them and the president gets a thaw," Azim told The Associated Press.
By agreeing to send their ministers to be sworn in by Musharraf, the politicians have "faced the reality that there is a president and he is not going anywhere," Azim said.
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup and turned Pakistan into a close U.S. ally after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, has faced mounting pressure to resign since his supporters were routed in the elections last month. Bhutto and Sharif's parties finished first and second.
Washington, keen for Pakistan to keep up its efforts against Al Qaeda militants near the Afghan border, has echoed Musharraf's calls for harmony between the new government and the presidency.
But the odds of a confrontation increased on Sunday, when Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and Sharif signed an accord to govern together and reverse Musharraf's highly contentious purge of the Supreme Court last year.
Parliament will restore the judges through a resolution within 30 days of the new government taking office, they said in a joint declaration. Musharraf has said he will convene parliament as soon as this week.
Musharraf first suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry on March 9, 2007, triggering lawyers' protests that grew into a powerful pro-democracy movement.
The Supreme Court reinstated Chaudhry in July and was poised to rule on the disputed legality of Musharraf's October re-election as president when he declared emergency rule on Nov. 3. Some 60 senior judges were purged and replaced by justices who have since given legal cover to the former general's actions.
In a recent interview, Musharraf claimed it was not legally possible to restore the judges.
But Sharif, whose government was ousted in the 1999 coup, alleged on Sunday that Musharraf's presidency was itself "illegal."
Lawyers on Saturday launched a fresh wave of protests, clashing with police outside the Islamabad residence where Chaudhry has been under house arrest for four months.
However, a push to restore the judges could quickly bog down in fresh legal wrangling, and Azim said the president, who has survived several assassination attempts and ridden out a year of political storms, retained the advantages of incumbency.
He noted that many details of the coalition accord remain to be resolved, including the identity of the new prime minister, and said the traditionally fierce rivalry between the parties of Bhutto and Sharif could resurface.
"There is a lot of political uncertainty. I would not put it that everything is against him (Musharraf)," Azim said. "A person who is in the saddle still commands the horse."