Intense political pressure has forced Pakistan's ruling Pakistan People's Party to abandon a move to get Parliament to endorse a controversial law that scrapped graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, raising questions about his future.
Following a meeting of senior PPP leaders chaired by Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, the party announced late last night that it would not ask Parliament to validate the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007 to grant immunity in corruption cases to PPP leaders.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the meeting "decided not to take the NRO to the Parliament."
The meeting also endorsed the position taken in Parliament yesterday by Gilani, who had vowed to save the democratic system and continue his policy of consensus and reconciliation.
The PPP's move came after some leader of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), an ally of PPP, said that their party chief Altaf Hussain had advised Zardari to resign to save democracy and main opposition PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif threatened to launch nationwide protests if NRO was endorsed by Parliament.
MQM chief Hussain later changed his position apparently due to pressure from the PPP but the damage was already done.
He claimed he had not given any advice to Zardari to resign and said the MQM would decide on the NRO in accordance with the aspirations of the people.
Under a ruling given by Pakistan's Supreme Court on July 31, the NRO has to be endorsed by Parliament within four months.
Musharraf issued the NRO to ensure that the PPP did not boycott presidential polls held in October 2007 that led to his re-election while still in military uniform.
If the NRO is not ratified by Parliament within the specified period, it will lapse and the corruption cases scrapped under it can be reopened.
Leading lawyer and senior PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan has said the law will lapse if it is not endorsed by Parliament. He also said the Supreme Court could strike down the law even if it is ratified by Parliament.
The PML-N, which did not benefit from the NRO, has consistently opposed the law.
In recent days, several other parties, including allies of the PPP, have indicated they will not back the NRO if it is presented before the National Assembly or lower house of parliament.
Presidential spokesman Babar said the PPP decided not to present the NRO in parliament after consulting its partners in the coalition at the centre.
In his address to Parliament yesterday after opposition lawmakers walked out of the House on the issue of the NRO, Gilani urged political parties not to take any steps that would harm democracy.
"I assure the House, the opposition and the people (that nothing will be done) that harms democracy, the Parliament and the system," he said.
"We shall take along everybody. Our aim is that the sacrifices of our leaders for democracy and supremacy of the Parliament bear fruit," Gilani said.
Expressing regret over the walkout by the opposition, he said: "We believe in consensus. We evolved consensus in the past and we shall do the same in future. We are talking to our coalition partners. We are evaluating all aspects."
Gilani also made it clear that the PPP-led coalition is still reviewing the NRO. "Consultations about the NRO are continuing," he said.
Before walking out of the House, opposition PML-Q and PML-N lawmakers shouted slogans, including 'NRO namanzoor' (NRO is unacceptable).
Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said: "We will not let the government bring the NRO on the agenda of the National assembly. Enough is enough, we will not let this assembly be used for this purpose."
"It is not fair that we suffer for your acts or let this Parliament suffer for your acts. Today, the judiciary is independent and if you have the courage, face the courts," he said. PTI