ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The ruling coalition that just a week ago drove U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf from the presidency broke apart Monday, throwing Pakistan into political turmoil just as it faces an increasingly difficult fight against Islamic militants.
The collapse of the fragile alliance threw more power to Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of assassinated ex-leader Benazir Bhutto and a corruption-tainted figure who now becomes the front-runner to replace Musharraf.
Fulfilling a threat he made last week, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pulled his party out of the coalition after a dispute with Zardari over whether to restore the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudry, who was ousted by Musharraf.
There was concern within Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party, that such a restoration would lead to the prosecution of Musharraf — and perhaps even Zardari — and that it would weaken the ability to fight militants.
Sharif's withdrawal will cost Zardari and the PPP their majority in Parliament. But Zardari is expected to rally support from allies and form a new government with the help of small parties.
If he does that and wins the presidency Sept. 6 in a vote by lawmakers, as he is on course to do, Zardari would add to his powers and be in a position to create a more stable government.
The government needs a strengthened hand to tackle the growing Taliban militancy in Pakistan and end the instability that has plagued the country for the past year. The test will come when the new government takes on the militants and at the same time tries to find a solution to rising food and fuel prices that are slowing economic growth.
Zardari's party moved to calm U.S. fears that Pakistan's new civilian rulers are paying too little attention to Islamic militants, banning a Taliban group that lays claims to suicide bombings.