0

by RAY FLEMING
PROVIDED that there is no last-minute hitch - something that cannot be guaranteed - Pakistan's newly-elected Parliament will meet for the first time tomorrow. The government coalition led by Asif Ali Zardari (Benazir Bhutto's widower) and the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has a raft of urgent tasks for Parliament to tackle but two are likely to be priorities: first, the reinstatement of the Supreme Court deposed by President Musharraf last year in a last-ditch attempt to retain power; and second, consideration of legislation to remove the President's power to dissolve Parliament and appoint military leaders. If these two measures are activated by Parliament President Musharraf's power will be greatly weakened and his continuation in the post put in doubt. Politics in Pakistan is never straightforward and unexpected events may test the Zardari-Sharif coalition severely. Yet, curiously, the person who may be tested most in the next few months is President Bush who will have to suppress his instinct to try to overrule democratic outcomes that are not to his liking. President Musharraf has been America's choice to lead Pakistan , even if a reluctant one, but if he is ousted or weakened by a combination of the government and the Parliament, America must avoid intervention on his behalf at all costs. Despite their evident flaws, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif, should be given every possible help in establishing their coalition and bringing some stability to a volatile country in possession of nuclear weapons and plagued by determined internal opposition.