Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistan Supreme Court ’

Political Rally Shuts Down Pakistan Capital

As Reported by The Voice of America

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Thousands of flag-waving protesters marched into Pakistan’s capital Monday to demand changes to the country’s political system just months before scheduled elections. The rally is led by a Canadian-Pakistani cleric, Tahir-ul Qadri.

Cellphone services were shut off, shops closed their doors, metal containers barricaded major roads, and riot police were at the ready as protestors entered the country’s capital city.

Some 30,000 people were said to have arrived in Islamabad from the eastern city of Lahore in a two-day convoy.  Another estimated 40,000 were expected to arrive overnight.

Protest organizers had predicted the numbers would reach in the hundreds of thousands.

Rally leader Tahir-ul Qadri is calling for the current government to step down as part of an overhaul of the country’s electoral system. National voting for a new government is expected to be held in a few months.

Analysts say Qadri is tapping into the people’s deep frustration with ongoing violence and a deteriorating economy, but his campaign is unlikely to have a significant impact on the political system.

But supporters like Mariam Khalid, who flew in from her home in Britain to join the protest, says Qadri stands for the kind of change the country needs.

“Basically this is about change, and I know that is kind of vague and everyone wants change.  The difference with this protest is that it’s not just about talking the talk, it’s about walking the walk as well. What Dr. Tahir-ul Qadri is saying is basically that the people are sick of it, the situation in Pakistan; there is no food, no electricity, people are dying — basically they are, that’s the reality,” Khalid said.

Relatively unknown until he returned to Pakistan a few weeks ago, Qadri has spent the last seven years in Canada leading an Islamic charity group with branches around the world.

Now his television ads are on all of Pakistan’s major stations to protest what he says is a broken and corrupt political system that any election will just perpetuate.

If the national polls are held as scheduled, it will be the first time since Pakistan was formed in 1947 that a civilian government has completed its five-year term and peacefully handed over power to a new civilian leadership.

Tariq Junaid, head of Pakistan’s Institute for Public Opinion Research, says Qadri’s slogans are attractive, but his ability to force a change in the electoral laws, or even delay the elections, depends largely on the pressure Qadri can bring to bear on the government.

“Right now we have to see how much weightage the political parties will give to this. Apparently it seems like that, they are not taking it very seriously, they are letting it happen, and they think that in the due course of time it will die down, within the course of the next five or six days,” Junaid said.

Junaid says as yet, there is a general consensus within Pakistani civil society that timely elections are the best way to remove corrupt politicians and give the country a fresh start.

Pakistani President Chooses Party Stalwart as New Premier

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

President Asif Ali Zardari has chosen a party stalwart, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, to replace the ousted prime minister, Pakistani news media reported late Wednesday.

Mr. Shahabuddin, who was serving as textiles minister when the Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and broke up the cabinet on Tuesday, will file his nomination papers before the election commission on Thursday. Khurshid Shah, a senior leader of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, said a special session of the National Assembly would be held Friday for a confirmation vote.

The nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin came after hours of negotiations between party officials and the other members of its governing coalition. Officials said he was Mr. Zardari’s first choice, but he faced mild resistance during a meeting at the president’s house on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Shahabuddin belongs to an influential family from the southern part of Punjab Province, which has been a stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples Party. He has held several positions, including deputy finance minister in the early 1990s. He was considered close to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The country’s economy, militants in the tribal badlands and troubled relations with the United States over reopening NATO supply lines would be among the issues facing him if he was confirmed. But he may face another challenge by the Supreme Court, which has been pushing the ruling government to reopen a Swiss corruption investigation against Mr. Zardari. Mr. Gilani’s refusal to do so led to contempt charges and his dismissal.

Most analysts expect Mr. Shahabuddin would fight such pressure, as Mr. Gilani did.

Raza Rumi, the policy director of the Jinnah Institute, a research group in Islamabad, said that the nomination of Mr. Shahabuddin indicated continuation of the governing party’s policies. “Mr. Shahabuddin is an experienced parliamentarian, but he will face a tough choice to balance loyalty to the president and deal with an assertive court and a restive opposition,” he said.

Political Instability Rises as Pakistani Court Ousts Premier

As Reported by Delcan Welsh for The New York Times

The Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, drastically escalating a confrontation between the government and the judiciary and plunging the political system into turmoil.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry declared that Mr. Gilani’s office had been effectively vacant since April 26 when the court convicted him on contempt charges because he refused to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, his superior.

Although the decision is unlikely to topple the government, many viewed it as the product of a grudge-driven tussle between Mr. Zardari and Justice Chaudhry, with the prime minister caught in the middle.

“The court has been gunning for the prime minister for a long time,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran political analyst. “Clearly there is a lot of politics in this.”

The order left Pakistan in a state of constitutional uncertainty, with the cabinet effectively dismissed. The court instructed Mr. Zardari to “ensure continuation of the democratic process” — words widely interpreted as an order to arrange the election of a new prime minister.

Legal experts said Mr. Gilani could not appeal the decision but that he may continue in an interim role until a successor is chosen. It was unclear what impact the decision would have on troubled negotiations with the United States to reopen NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

As word of the ruling spread, Pakistanis held their breath for reaction from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, whose top leaders held an emergency session at Mr. Zardari’s house. Television stations reported that the party had agreed in principle to accept the court’s ruling, but a final decision was not expected until later Tuesday.

Shahbaz Sharif, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N Party, which instigated the court action, hailed the decision. “It upholds the supremacy of the law and the Constitution,” Mr. Sharif said.

But it calls into question the validity of all executive decisions made since April 26, including the passing of the federal budget. One commentator said it “opened a massive legal can of worms.”

Speculation swirled about the identity of a replacement prime minister; among the names circulating were those of the foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and various stalwarts from the party’s electoral heartland in Sindh Province and southern Punjab.

Any candidate, however, will need the approval of the P.P.P.’s coalition partners — smaller, ethnically centered parties based in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, who are likely to seek fresh concessions from Mr. Zardari in exchange for their votes in Parliament.

The court decision advanced the likelihood that general elections, scheduled to take place by next spring, could be brought forward.

Equally, however, Mr. Zardari may wish to first resolve some of the governance failures that have marred his government’s reputation, notably widespread power outages and system failures that have continued for years. The court decision coincided with street agitation in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, where rioters burned buildings and clashed with police in several cities on Monday and Tuesday to protest power outages.

“Law has become subservient to politics, but this government had it coming. It has been singularly inept,” said Mr. Sethi, the analyst. “They had six months to anticipate the power crisis, and now it is upon them.”

In dismissing Mr. Gilani, the court chose the strongest option. It could have referred Mr. Gilani’s case to the Election Commission of Pakistan, which could have taken up to three months to adjudicate the case.

It comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the court itself. Last week, a billionaire businessman made explosive accusations in court and in the media that he had given $3.7 million in kickbacks to Justice Chaudhry’s son in order to swing several cases his way. The furor over those accusations, centered on the judge’s son, Arsalan Iftikhar, is now likely to fade as the country grapples with its latest political crisis.

Mr. Gilani’s dismissal stems from longstanding demands by the court that Mr. Gilani write a letter to the authorities in Switzerland to seek to reopen a dormant corruption investigation into Mr. Zardari’s finances that started in the 1990s.

Mr. Gilani refused, arguing that he was unable to do so because the president enjoyed immunity from prosecution. And the prime minister signaled long ago that he was ready to be dismissed or face prison in the case.

After Mr. Gilani was convicted on contempt charges on April 26, the speaker of Parliament examined calls for his dismissal from public office. The court intervened after the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, ruled that Mr. Gilani should not be dismissed.

“What will happen to independence of judiciary if speaker or Parliament tries to scrutinize judicial rulings?” Justice Chaudhry said on Tuesday. “No one can undo a court verdict except a court of appeals.”

Pakistan Supreme Court Convicts Prime Minister

As Reported by The Los Angeles Times

Pakistan’s Supreme Court convicted Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Thursday of contempt for failing to revive a long-standing graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari, a ruling that could eventually result in the premier’s ouster and ramp up political tension in an important but troubled U.S. ally.

The court opted not to sentence Gilani to a maximum six months in prison. However, under Pakistani law, a conviction could entail disqualification from the office he has held since 2008.

The verdict comes at a time when the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, stewarded by Zardari and Gilani, is especially vulnerable. As elections approach, the party faces a public intensely dissatisfied with its performance on issues such as a stagnant economy and crippling power shortages.

Within hours of the ruling, handed down by a seven-judge panel, opposition leaders called for Gilani’s resignation.

“He should step down without causing further crisis,” former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Peoples Party’s archrival Pakistan Muslim League-N, told a Pakistani television channel. “The prime minister himself invited this situation.”

But members of Gilani’s team suggested the Pakistan Peoples Party would defend his right to stay in office. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira called the ruling “a very unfortunate day for this country and for democracy,” but said the court’s ruling did not explicitly call for Gilani’s disqualification as prime minister.

Ultimately, Zardari and other party leaders will have to weigh the benefits of staving off Gilani’s removal from office through legal and legislative maneuvers against the political damage that could come with trying to keep him at the helm of government.

“Essentially, it will go to the court of public opinion,” said Cyril Almeida, a leading columnist for Dawn, an English-language Pakistani newspaper. “The media and political opposition will say you have a prime minister convicted, so morally he should not stay on as prime minister. … What might happen is someone might petition the Supreme Court, saying, ‘This is your order, so please disqualify the prime minister.’ That seems likely to be the next step.”

The contempt conviction stems from a case in Switzerland in which Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were convicted in absentia in 2003. The couple were charged with taking kickbacks from Swiss companies during Bhutto’s rule in the 1990s. They appealed, and the case was dropped in 2008 at the request of the Pakistani government.

Since 2009, the Supreme Court has repeatedly demanded that Gilani’s government write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that the case be revived. Gilani refused, contending that, as president, Zardari has constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Pakistani Prime Minister Due in Court For Contempt Hearing

As Reported by CNN

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan is due to appear Monday before the country’s Supreme Court, which plans to charge him with contempt in relation to a long-running struggle over old corruption cases.

Gilani is locked in a standoff with the Supreme Court justices, who are demanding that he ask the Swiss authorities to revive corruption charges from the previous decade against President Asif Ali Zardari and others.

Gilani has refused the court’s demands and could be jailed for six months if the justices find him in contempt. The court on Friday rejected an appeal by Gilani’s lawyers against the summons to face the contempt charge.

The lawyers have argued that the prime minister has not followed the court’s order because Zardari enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad as a president in office.

Gilani said in an interview over the weekend with the satellite news network Al Jazeera that he had an “extremely capable” lawyer and didn’t believe the court would jail him on the contempt charges.

If found guilty of contempt, the prime minister could be forced from office. But his lawyers have said he would keep his position unless electoral officials disqualified him.

Gilani served more than five years in prison between 2001 and 2006 on corruption charges brought by the previous military regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf — counts he said were also politically motivated.

The corruption cases that the Supreme Court now wants reopened stem from money-laundering charges against Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A Swiss court convicted them in absentia in 2003 of laundering millions of dollars.

After Musharraf granted a controversial amnesty in 2007 to Zardari, Bhutto, and thousands of other politicians and bureaucrats, Pakistan asked the Swiss authorities to drop the case. In 2009, the Pakistani Supreme Court ruled the amnesty was unconstitutional and called on the government to take steps to have the cases reopened.

The government has not done so, and the court apparently lost patience. Since Gilani is the head of the government, the court justices view him as responsible.

Pakistan High Court Launches Contempt Case Against Prime Minister

By Alex Rodriguez for The Los Angeles Times

Dealing a heavy blow to Pakistan’s embattled government, the Supreme Court on Monday initiated contempt proceedings against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for refusing to revive a long-standing corruption case against the nation’s president.

Gilani, a top ally of President Asif Ali Zardari in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, must appear before the court Thursday, when the justices will listen to his explanation for not going ahead with the case.

If the court moves forward with the contempt proceedings and Gilani is convicted, he could be disqualified from office and forced to step down. He also could be forced to serve up to six months in jail.

Zardari’s government is locked in battles with the Supreme Court and Pakistan’s powerful military, both of which have had an acrimonious relationship with the president since he took office in 2008. The crisis has stirred talk of the government’s possible ouster, though experts say it probably would happen through legal action taken by the high court rather than a military coup.

The military has ousted civilian leaders in coups four times in Pakistan’s 65-year history, but military generals have said they have no plans to mount a takeover.

Nevertheless, they were deeply angered by an unsigned memo that a Pakistani American businessman contends was engineered by a top Zardari ally to seek Washington’s help in preventing a military coup last spring. In exchange, the memo offered several concessions, including the elimination of a wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency that maintains links with Afghan insurgent groups.

The businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, says the then-ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, approached him with the idea. Haqqani, who was forced to resign after the allegations surfaced, denies any involvement in the creation or conveyance of the memo. A Supreme Court commission is investigating the case, and on Monday it ordered Ijaz to come to Pakistan and appear before the panel Jan. 24.

The high court’s move to start contempt proceedings against Gilani involves money-laundering charges in Switzerland that Zardari was convicted of in absentia in 2003. The case was appealed by Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and was later dropped at the request of the Pakistani government in 2008.

Since 2009, Pakistan’s high court has repeatedly ordered the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that the case be reopened. Gilani and government lawyers have refused, arguing that as president, Zardari enjoys constitutional immunity from prosecution.

Last week, the court warned Gilani that it could remove him from office if he did not abide by its demand. Government lawyers were supposed to appear in court Monday and explain why Gilani’s administration had ignored the court.

Instead, Atty. Gen. Maulvi Anwarul Haq appeared before a packed courtroom and told a high court panel that the government had not given him any instructions about what to say in court. The head of the panel, Justice Nasir Mulk, said Gilani’s inaction gave the court no recourse but to pursue a contempt case against him.

Outside the courtroom, Haq said that if the court eventually issues a contempt finding against Gilani, “this conviction has ramifications…. Under the constitution, with a conviction it’s disqualification from office.”

Before the court issues its findings, it probably would hold evidentiary hearings, Haq said. If Gilani on Thursday tells the court he will ask Swiss authorities to reopen the corruption case, the justices probably would consider dropping the contempt proceeding, said Tariq Mehmood, a lawyer and retired judge.

Gilani has given no indication he plans to give in. He will, however, appear in court Thursday to explain the government’s rationale, he told parliament late Monday. “We have always respected the courts,” he said. “The court has summoned me, and in respect of the court I will go there on Jan. 19.”

Zardari’s administration hopes to become the first civilian government to finish out its term, which ends in 2013. The political turmoil may thwart that plan, as opposition leaders increasingly push harder for early elections. Though Zardari is widely criticized in Pakistan for failing to revive the country’s moribund economy and tackle corruption, his party remains confident that it can weather the storm and retain power for a second term.

Even if Gilani is removed from office, Zardari continues to hold together a coalition that controls parliament’s lower house, which elects the prime minister. On Monday, however, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a staunch ally of the president, doubted it would come to that.

“The prime minister will stay,” Malik told reporters outside parliament. “The government is in command. Our flight may be a little bumpy, but God willing, we will have a smooth landing in 2013.”

Outrage in India As Mumbai Attacks Terrorist Leader Set to Be Freed By Pakistani Courts

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s decision to free the leader of Lashkar e Taiba (LeT), a militant group that is blamed by India for masterminding  and orchestrating the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in India that killed 166 people.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the leader of the terrorist group had been placed under house arrest. However, he was released a year ago by the provincial Lahore High Court due to the fact that there was insufficient evidence against Hafiz and other members of the group. The only evidence against him and the group was the confession of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kassab, the lone person charged with attacks in India, who was given a death sentence earlier this month. Pakistan’s government appealed the decision of the Lahore High cCourt to the Supreme Court which upheld the lower court’s decision.

Lawyers for the government of Pakistan had requested that India extradite Kassab so that he could give testimony in Pakistani courts against Saeed and the militant group. However, India understandably did not hand over Kassab for fear that the sole surviving perpetrator of the Mumbai attacks could end up in a Pakistani court that sets him free. Sadly, this now happens to be the case as the masterminds of the attacks and leader of an already banned terrorist group, Hafiz Saeed, is set to be freed soon.

This obviously is very disappointing news to India to say the least. It would be the equivalent of letting the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have a long and high profile trial in New York, only to be set free for lack of evidence and or a weak case by the prosecution. The families of the victims would not stomach such a travesty and neither would the American people. In this same manner, the families of the Mumbai attacks are very upset by this decision by Pakistan the Supreme Court to release Saeed will now surelyonly serve to stall peace talks between India and Pakistan that were slowly progressing at the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting in Bhutan in April of this year.

At a time when the world’s attention is on Pakistan and Pakistanis for being associated with terrorism due to the attempt to bomb Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, the country and its courts have shot themselves in the foot by allowing to set free a known terrorist leader of a group that is not only attacking India and trying to provoke a war between the two countries, but is believed to be behind many attacks inside Pakistan also killing many innocent people.

If the shoe was on the other foot and the attackers came from India and killed 166 Pakistanis in a busy shopping area, while simultaneously attacking a major hotel, railway station and other locations throughout any of Pakistan’s major cities, then trust me, there would be demand for blood by Pakistani citizens and militias would have formed with or without the government’s blessings, and theywould have retaliated against the Indians. The Indian government and the Indian people are showing great resolve and patience with Pakistan and all along hoping that it truly becomes 100 percent committed to fighting and rooting out terrorism and terrorist groups within its borders as it is touted to be.

But as Tuesday’s decision by the Supreme Court illustrates, Pakistan’s government has a mixed record when fighting extremist groups within the country. As mentioned in previous articles on this site, the government of Pakistan and the army have supported and helped organize some of these militant groups like Lashkar e Taiba in order for the Pakistan army to have a guerrilla outfit as an ally in the event of a war with India. That is why there is reluctance by some inside the military and ISI to fully disband Saeed’s group, believed to be one of the largest and well funded militant groups in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan needs to realize that it cannot talk out of both sides of its mouth. It cannot present itself as one of the biggest allies of the US in the War on Terror, while at the same time not deal effectively with militant groups that are hostile to India.

We at Pakistanis for Peace are outraged that Hafiz Saeed, a known terrorist leader is set to be free from Pakistani courts. Our group and website Pakistanis for Peace was founded immediately after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 by concerned Pakistani Americans in response to the cowardly terrorist attacks by individuals who snuck in from Pakistan to cause one of the biggest terrorist incidents to ever hit India. These attacks certainly became their 9-11. 

To now have the leader of this terrorist group be set free by Pakistani courts only serves to strengthen the claims of opponents of Pakistan that it is not doing enough in the fight against terrorism. Certainly the families of the 166 dead Indian nationals deserve justice and better outcome than what transpired in Pakistan’s Supreme Court this week. One should make no mistake, only a just and lasting peace with India will ever lead to a prosperous Pakistan and the sooner there is an earnest effort to stop ALL militant and terrorist groups operating within inside the country by Pakistan, the sooner the two sides can sit across from each other at the peace table.

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