Pakistan's two victorious opposition parties said last night they would work together to form a government but pushed aside the contentious issues of Pervez Musharraf's future and the restoration of the country's judiciary.
After three days of backroom negotiations following Monday's parliamentary election, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari said they would "stay together and be together in the parliament".
"We have agreed on a common agenda. We will work together to form a government together in the centre and in the provinces," said Mr Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), which came second in the election to Mr Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The announcement appeared to stop short of being a final agreement and both parties said their officials still needed to work out many details. But it represents a definite shift towards the likelihood that a government opposed to Mr Musharraf will take control of the parliament.
One of the outstanding issues that both sides still have to address is the issue of the restoration of those judges, including the former Supreme Court Chief Justice, Iftikar Chaudhry, sacked by Mr Musharraf when they failed to ratify his state of emergency imposed last November.
Mr Sharif had campaigned on the immediate return of the judges, but last night he said: "In principle there's no disagreement on restoration of the judiciary. We will work on the modalities in parliament."
There has been pressure on the two parties from parts of the international community to swiftly form a government and avoid a political vacuum that could create instability. The US, meanwhile, has indicated it still supports the president, despite the electoral defeat of his parliamentary allies.Reuse content