ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan's ruling coalition collapsed Monday, torn apart by internal bickering exactly one week after the two main parties united to drive U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf from the presidency.
The exit of the second largest party is not expected to bring down the government, however.
If anything it clears the way for the main ruling party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to tighten its grip on power and — many hope — to start focusing on challenges such as the sinking economy and the rising militant threat.
The Interior Ministry was already showing signs Monday of taking a tougher line on insurgents.
It announced a ban on the Pakistani Taliban after the insurgents claimed responsibility for a wave of homicide bombings in recent days, including a spectacular attack Thursday on one of the country's biggest and most sensitive military installations that left 67 dead.
Hours earlier, the government rejected a Taliban cease-fire offer in the Bajur tribal region, a rumored hiding place for Usama bin Laden where an army offensive has reportedly killed hundreds in recent weeks and displaced more than 200,000 others.
The United States and other Western nations have been carefully watching the alliance between Pakistan's two main political parties unravel since Musharraf — a stalwart supporter of the war on terror — resigned to avoid the humiliation of impeachment. Western diplomats say they are worried about the effect prolonged instability could have on the nuclear-armed nation.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's announcement Monday that his party was leaving the ruling coalition, made up of traditional rivals who joined forces to push Musharraf from power, was widely expected.
He has been threatening to walk for days, saying Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, which has the largest bloc in Parliament, broke repeated promises to restore judges ousted by Musharraf or to agree on a neutral successor.
Sharif blamed Bhutto's widower and political successor, Asif Ali Zardari, for the split, and named a retired judge to run against him in a Sept. 6 presidential election by lawmakers.
Sharif vowed, however, to play a "constructive" role while in the opposition.
"We don't want to be instrumental in overthrowing any government," he told a rowdy, packed news conference, where reporters shouted and tried to tear the microphone from each others' hands. "We don't have any such intentions."
The People's Party has been courting smaller parties in Parliament for days in case the coalition collapsed.
A major opposition party has already backed Zardari's presidential bid. That group, together with smaller parties and independents, could plug the gap in the government's parliamentary majority.
A Geneva prosecutor, meanwhile, said Monday he has dropped money laundering charges against Zardari, saying an 11-year investigation has produced too little for him to continue. Prosecutor General Daniel Zappelli noted that the Pakistani prosecutor had also dropped his corruption cases against Zardari.
The move comes eight months after Zappelli dropped charges against the assassinated Bhutto.
Violence continued to flare Monday.
Eight were killed in a pre-dawn rocket-and-bomb strike on the home of provincial lawmaker Waqar Ahmed Khan in Swat, police and the politician said. His brother, two nephews and five guards were killed.