WASHINGTON - The talk of Pakistan being an unstable country was back in U.S. media following the coalition government's breakup in less than three months, with one newspaper suggesting that among the reasons PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari's refusal to restore the deposed judges was that the current chief justice was 'friendly' towards him. "If (Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad) Chaudhry is reinstated, the Supreme Court would almost certainly rule that the Nov. 3 emergency decree was illegal," The New York Times said in a dispatch on Tuesday. "That in turn would reopen the issue of the legitimacy of (President Pervez) Musharraf's second five-year presidential term, which was found legal by Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar, who replaced Mr. Chaudhry, and who is regarded in the Pakistani legal fraternity as being friendly toward Mr. Zardari," Times' correspondent Jane Perlez wrote from islamabad.   "Mr. Chaudhry could also decide to overturn an amnesty introduced last year by the Musharraf government for politicians accused of corruption. One of the prime beneficiaries of that amnesty is Mr. Zardari." Writing about PML-N's decision to pull out of the cabinet, The Washington Post said in a dispatch, "The split was seen by analysts as a significant blow to Pakistan's progress toward mature democratic rule and a deep disappointment to the public, which ousted Musharraf's party at the polls in February and had demanded the restoration of the judges during months of unprecedented civic protests. "Analysts also said the judicial dispute -- and by extension, the question of Musharraf's future -- would now likely drag on, distracting the new government from addressing more important national problems, especially battling radical Islamist fighters and rebuilding the badly ailing economy... ZARDARI BLAMED The Post correspondent in Islamabad, Pamela Constable, went on to say, "Public opinion here has tended to blame Zardari for being intransigent. Sharif, despite the potential damage from his cabinet pullout, is widely seen as having taken the moral high ground on an issue that drew an unprecedented public outcry here last year and quickly became a first major test for Pakistan's new government." "This is a defining moment for Pakistan," Ahsan Iqbal, a top aide to Sharif and one of nine cabinet members from the Muslim League who left his post Tuesday, was quoted as saying in The Post. "Without the rule of law, without an independent judiciary, the country cannot move ahead democratically or constitutionally." Correspondent Constable said, "The rift between Zardari and Sharif leaves unresolved a second, more significant power struggle between Musharraf and the former chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry. Chaudhry, an iconoclastic figure, challenged Musharraf in a society where judges have traditionally deferred to the military. Musharraf tried to fire him twice and declared a state of emergency last November while the high court was preparing to rule on the legality of his presidency. "Although Musharraf doffed his uniform in December and had been seen as wielding less power in recent months, Monday's political breakdown could give him more room to reassert himself as a power broker, analysts said. As a civilian president, he has the authority to dissolve Parliament and appoint military commanders. "Ultimately, the greatest threat to Pakistan's political evolution is the possibility of military intervention. So far, the new army chief has shown no interest in politics. But if renewed protests should erupt over the judicial dispute, food and fuel prices should continue to rise, or civilian authorities should fail to address the rising threat of violent extremism, some fear the army could be tempted to take over, as it has done before." ZARDARI'S UNDERTAKING TO US Ashtar Ausaf Ali, a senior legal adviser to Mr. Sharif, Mr. Ali, was quoted as saying in The New York Times that the breakdown over the judges came in part because the Bush administration was concerned that Musharraf be protected, for the time being at least, and not be made vulnerable to rulings by justice Chaudhry. Ali said there was a perception that Zardari had given an understanding to the Bush administration that Musharraf be granted a "safe exit," six to nine months from now, a period which coincides with the end of  President George W. Bush's term. "It's the perception that the Americans fear if the judiciary is restored, Musharraf will lose face," Ali said. Editorials and articles in Pakistani newspapers have asserted that the United States was meddling in the coalition crisis, The Times noted. Noting the vow of the leader of the lawyers' movement, Aitzaz Ahsan, to "continuing the fight until all the judges are back," The Times' correspondent in Islmabad said, "But there are doubts about how much excitement he will be able to stir, especially since he plans to run for a parliamentary seat on the ticket of the Pakistan Peoples Party led by Mr. Zardari. His party is now seen as an opponent of reinstating Mr. Chaudhry and his fellow judges in the way that was expected."