ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan’s victorious opposition parties agreed Thursday to form a governing coalition in the newly elected parliament, signaling a break from past political rivalries and imposing a fresh challenge to President Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally.
Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, said his political movement will join forces with Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister who heads a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
Sharif and Zardari’s slain wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were bitter rivals for years but began working in tandem against Musharraf before her Dec. 27 assassination.
But Zardari and Sharif, speaking together from the courtyard of Zardari’s home here, pledged to set aside decades of political enmity to address such issues as restoring an independent judiciary in the country of 164 million people.
“We intend to stay together,” said Zardari, a former Pakistani legislator who like Sharif has been accused in the past of corruption. “We intend to be together in parliament. We will work for Pakistan together. We will make a stronger Pakistan.”
The agreement ended weeks of speculation over whether the two men could bring their parties together following the parliamentary elections, which culminated a violent year in Pakistani politics epitomized by Bhutto’s assassination.
The alliance will be a political threat to Musharraf, the former military chief who ousted Sharif in a coup in 1999. The Bush administration has sent billions of dollars in aid to his government, which it views as a partner against rising Islamic radicalism in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.
Neither Sharif nor Zardari called directly for Musharraf’s ouster, but both made clear they would not enter an alliance with the president’s Pakistan Muslim League-Q faction.
“I think the nation today has given out its verdict and that verdict is amply clear, and it is from every nook and corner of Pakistan,” Sharif said. “He also understands that. The sooner he accepts the verdict the better it is for him.”
Musharraf has said he will not resign as president, setting up a potential showdown between the new parliamentary coalition and his unpopular government that could end with his impeachment.
A sitting president can be impeached if he is judged by a joint session of the Pakistani Senate and National Assembly to have violated the country’s constitution or committed gross misconduct. A two-thirds parliamentary majority is for impeachment, and it is still unclear whether the opposition can muster that support.