[While the country’s maverick chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has won popular support for a series of hard-hitting decisions aimed at powerful figures, worries are growing that his aggressive and sometimes nakedly partisan pursuit of Mr. Zardari dangerously erodes the country’s fragile democratic foundations.]
By Declan Walsh
The move was the first open entry of the military into the deepening struggle between the judiciary and Mr. Zardari’s government this week, beginning with the Supreme Court’s dismissal of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday.
In crisis meetings of Mr. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party over the past two days, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, a party stalwart and former health minister from
, emerged as the next nominee for prime minister. But hours
after Mr. Shahabuddin’s nomination, the military-run Anti-Narcotics Force
prompted a magistrates court to order his arrest on charges relating to the
illegal production of a controlled drug. Punjab Province
The court also issued an arrest warrant for Ali Musa Gilani, a son of the departing prime minister, in the same case.
Mr. Zardari’s party seemed to respond with more resignation than outrage, and soon two new party figures had stepped forward for the prime minister nomination: Qamar Zaman Kaira, a former information minister, and Raja Pervez Ashraf, a former minister for water and power. The party said it would make its choice by Friday.
The surprise court maneuver highlights the growing difficulty of separating law from politics in
’s turbulent power equation. Pakistan
While the country’s maverick chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has won popular support for a series of hard-hitting decisions aimed at powerful figures, worries are growing that his aggressive and sometimes nakedly partisan pursuit of Mr. Zardari dangerously erodes the country’s fragile democratic foundations.
On Tuesday, the court ousted Mr. Gilani as prime minister because he refused to reopen a long-dormant corruption investigation of Mr. Zardari’s finances in
. Mr. Gilani argued that, as president, Mr. Zardari had
immunity from prosecution that is mandated under the Constitution. Switzerland
Mr. Zardari’s supporters, and many analysts, say the court appears bent on toppling the government, just nine months before it is due to hold elections — a landmark that, if reached, would represent the first time a Pakistani government had completed its five-year term.
Experts say early elections are increasingly likely, although much depends on how far Mr. Chaudhry is willing to go against the government.
“It feels like we’re going back to the future,” said Abbas Nasir, a former editor of the newspaper Dawn. “O.K., the government may be inept or corrupt. But if it’s such a disaster, let’s just wait and vote them out.”
The Supreme Court insists it is standing its ground against an incompetent and corruption-riddled administration, and it has enjoyed staunch support from many lawyers and parts of the news media. That support has been weakened, however, amid a news media scandal centered on accusations of corruption against Mr. Chaudhry’s family.
Lurking in the background, meanwhile, is the powerful military, which harbors a deep animosity toward Mr. Zardari, who is considered unreliable on foreign and national security issues related to
, India and the Afghanistan . United States
Although the generals had been largely quiet through the political crisis, some have now entered the fray.
In court on Thursday, the lead investigator for the Anti-Narcotics Force, Brig. Faheem Ahmed Khan, obtained arrest warrants for Mr. Shahabuddin and Mr. Gilani’s son. In an earlier hearing, Brigadier Khan accused Ali Musa Gilani of using his father’s influence to authorize the illegal production of about 20,900 pounds of ephedrine, a controlled drug used to manufacture methamphetamine, in 2010, when Mr. Shahabuddin was health minster.
Salman Raja, a lawyer for Ali Musa Gilani, said the Anti-Narcotics Force had exerted considerable pressure on senior Health Ministry officials in recent weeks to testify against Mr. Gilani. “They have been badgering and harassing people in the Ministry of Health, begging them to name him. It’s all very cynical and targeted,” Mr. Raja said in a telephone interview.
“You have to place this in the later context of the army flexing its muscles,” Mr. Raja added. “Today, all of
’s institutions and centers of criticism — the courts,
Parliament, the media — are under a question mark. Except the army.” Pakistan
[On Tuesday, the Supreme Court dismissed the previous prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, because he refused to restart a long-dormant corruption case against his party leader, Mr. Zardari, in
Switzerland. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said Mr. Gilani had committed contempt by refusing the court’s orders and was no longer fit for public office. Critics counter that the court was playing a dangerous game with the country’s fragile balance of power.]
By Declan Walsh
After days of negotiations and considerable intrigue, the Pakistan Peoples Party, which leads the coalition government, announced its support for Mr. Ashraf in a parliamentary vote due to take place on Friday evening.
Mr. Ashraf was a contentious choice, dogged by corruption allegations and partly blamed for the severe electricity crisis that triggered violent riots in
Punjab, the country’s most populous province, early this week. A
large faction inside the P.P.P. vocally opposed his election, party officials
Nevertheless, President Asif Ali Zardari’s endorsement on Friday appeared to ensure Mr. Ashraf would be the next prime minister – although, given the judicial intrigues and political turbulence of the preceding days, little could be taken for granted.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court dismissed the previous prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, because he refused to restart a long-dormant corruption case against his party leader, Mr. Zardari, in
. Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said Mr. Gilani
had committed contempt by refusing the court’s orders and was no longer fit for
public office. Critics counter that the court was playing a dangerous game with
the country’s fragile balance of power. Switzerland
Then, on Thursday, a lower court blocked Mr. Zardari’s preferred choice for prime minister, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, after the military-controlled Anti-Narcotics Force obtained a warrant for his arrest on drug charges.
On Friday, the Pakistan Peoples Party stressed that it was determined not to enter into confrontation with the judiciary and was focused on elections due to take place within the next year.
“The people of
should decide if we have made any mistake,” said Khursheed
Shah, a senior party leader, after he announced Mr. Ashraf’s candidacy outside
Parliament. “We are headed for an election year.” Pakistan
But few believe a new government will last long. “It is a matter of weeks and months,” said Talat Masood, a retired military general and political analyst. “Things are not going to calm down between the judiciary and the government.”
Mr. Ashraf was born in
but is an ethnic Punjabi and represents Sindh Province , the garrison city near Rawalpindi . As minister for water and power between March 2008 and
February 2011, he is accused of being responsible in large part for the
country’s electricity crisis. Islamabad
As the temperatures have soared this summer, straining a dilapidated and underfunded electricity grid, some areas have suffered up to 22 hours of outages. Earlier this week, thousands of rioters in cities across
clashed with police and burned property. Punjab Province
Opposition politicians assert that Mr. Ashraf took kickbacks for private power projects and used the proceeds to buy property in
. The National Accountability Bureau, which investigates
corruption allegations, questioned Mr. Ashraf in April. London
Mr. Ashraf, who later became minister for information, denied the charges before Parliament, describing his critics as “liars.” He later served as minister for information technology.
As prime minister, though, his most immediate challenge could come from the Supreme Court. The court is likely to immediately renew its demands that the prime minister write a letter asking Swiss authorities to reopen the corruption probe of Mr. Zardari that dates back to the 1990s. At that time, Swiss prosecutors accused Mr. Zardari of taking bribes worth at least $12 million while he was a minister in the government of his wife, Benazir Bhutto.
Mr. Zardari contested the charges in a lengthy legal process that abruptly ended in 2007 when the military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, issued a controversial amnesty as part of a political deal with Ms. Bhutto.
The Supreme Court in 2009 overturned that amnesty, known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance, and has since insisted that the government ask the Swiss to reopen the cases – even though Swiss authorities say that a prosecution at this stage is virtually impossible because the statute of limitations has expired.
Mr. Gilani rejected judicial demands that he write to the Swiss authorities, citing the president’s immunity from prosecution. In April, the Supreme Court convicted him of contempt, and imposed a token sentence, before finally ousting him this week.
The prospect of the “Swiss letter” drama, as it is known here, rumbling on helps explain Mr. Zardari’s choice of Mr. Ashraf, who otherwise enjoys weak support inside the ruling party. According to senior party official, Mr. Ashraf was vigorously opposed by some colleagues during negotiations this week.
They say that, because Mr. Ashraf’s chances of re-election are considered weak, the ruling party may have decided that his disqualification would represent a small political loss.
With such intense political instability, and continuing clashes between the government and judiciary, early elections are a growing possibility. Parliament’s term expires on March 18 and elections could technically take place as late as next June.