Pakistani Judges Press Premier to Defy President
By Salman Masood and Ismail Khan for The New York Times
The political and legal crisis in Pakistan took a new turn on Tuesday when the Supreme Court threatened to dismiss Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for failing to comply with court orders to reopen corruption cases against his political boss: President Asif Ali Zardari.
The latest pressure from the court compounds the problems of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, already facing a political crisis over a controversial memo that sought United States support in thwarting a feared military coup.
Adding to the government’s troubles is a steep increase in terrorist attacks. Another attack occurred early Tuesday, a truck bombing that the authorities said killed more than 25 people, including women and children, in northwestern Pakistan. A senior government official said the bombing appeared to be in retaliation for the recent killing of a militant leader.
Since December 2009, when the Supreme Court struck down an amnesty that nullified corruption charges against thousands of politicians, the court has insisted that the government reopen corruption cases against Mr. Zardari.
But the government has resisted court orders, and Mr. Zardari said last week that, “come what may,” officials from his party would not reopen the graft cases filed against him and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, in Switzerland. Ms. Bhutto was assassinated in 2007.
On Tuesday, a five-member panel of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, ruled that the government was guilty of “willful disobedience” and said that Mr. Gilani was “dishonest” for failing to carry out the earlier court orders.
The judges laid out six options — including initiating contempt of court charges, dismissing the prime minister, forming a judicial commission and taking action against the president for violating his constitutional oath — and ordered the attorney general to explain the government’s position in court on Monday.
A three-member judicial commission that is investigating the controversial memo is scheduled to resume its hearing the same day. Apart from having an acrimonious relationship with the judiciary, the government has an uneasy relationship with the country’s top generals.
Mr. Zardari, who spent 11 years in prison on unproved corruption charges, says the corruption cases against him and Ms. Bhutto that date to the 1990s were politically motivated.
In an interview last week with GEO TV, a news network, Mr. Zardari said reopening those cases would be tantamount to “a trial of the grave” of his wife.
Mr. Zardari also claims immunity as president, but the judiciary, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has resisted that claim and has aggressively pursued cases against Mr. Zardari’s party, leading many government officials to speculate that the judiciary was being used by the country’s powerful military to dismiss the government before the March elections for the Senate, in which the Pakistan Peoples Party is expected to win a majority.
Political analysts said the fate of Mr. Gilani, the prime minister, was in peril.
Mr. Zardari called a meeting of his party officials and coalition partners on Tuesday evening to chart strategy, and he was expected to get a statement of support from his allies.
“The situation is fast moving towards a head-on confrontation,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political and military analyst based in Lahore. “It depends on what options are exercised by the Supreme Court.”
According to the Pakistani Constitution, a prime minister can be removed only by the Parliament, and the Supreme Court can disqualify the prime minister only indirectly, Mr. Rizvi said.
“If the court disqualifies the prime minister and the prime minister continues to enjoy the support of the Parliament, then the stage is set for a very dangerous confrontation,” he said.
The legal standoff is forcing the government to defer issues of greater importance, like rescuing a failing economy and fighting Taliban insurgents, as it focuses on its political survival, Mr. Rizvi said.
“The court, the military and the executive are trying to assert themselves,” he said. “It has become a free-for-all.”
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the bombing on Tuesday, but it appeared to have been carried out by Tehrik-i-Taliban, an umbrella organization of Pakistani militant groups, against the Zakhakhel tribe, which has formed a militia in support of the government, said Mutahir Zeb, administrator for the Khyber tribal region.
Mr. Zeb said the Tehrik-i-Taliban sought to avenge the killing of Qari Kamran, a local Taliban commander, by security forces last week in an area occupied by the Zakhakhel.
Mr. Zeb said a pickup truck exploded in the middle of a bus terminal used by the Zakhakhel in the town of Jamrud.
The bomb destroyed several vehicles, damaged a nearby gasoline pump and shattered windows in the area. In addition to those killed, 27 people were reported wounded in the bombing and were taken to hospitals in Peshawar.
“I was on duty at the nearby checkpoint when I heard a big bang,” said Mir Gul, a security guard. “I rushed toward the spot and saw bodies lying around while the injured cried for help. It was devastating. There was blood everywhere.”
Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- The Pakistani people deserve better than this. The only solution to EVERYTHING that ails Pakistan is a true and long lasting peace with India. The sooner this dream becomes a reality, the sooner grim news of extremism and its grip on Pakistan will go away~