Pakistan in turmoil as courts clash with PM

Generals look on as Supreme Court starts contempt proceedings against Gilani

Pakistan plunged deeper into crisis last night after the
country's highest court began contempt proceedings against Prime
Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

In the latest twist to the constitutional turmoil that has gripped the nation, the Supreme Court demanded that Mr Gilani appear later this week to explain why his government had failed to follow directives to reopen corruption investigations against the President. If convicted, he could be forced from office.

Last night, Mr Gilani said he would appear. During a compelling performance before parliament, he said: "We have always respected the courts. The court has called me and in respect to the court, I will go on January 19 and appear."

The government, headed by President Asif Ali Zardari, has found itself increasingly squeezed from the military on one side and an assertive judiciary on the other. While few believe a traditional coup is now likely, many believe Mr Gilani could be forced from office.

The target of the courts is less the Prime Minister than Mr Zardari. Headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, a man with little time for Mr Zardari, the courts have repeatedly demanded the government ask Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against the President dating back to the 1990s. The government has declined to do so, claiming that in his position as President, Mr Zardari has immunity.

The courts say that since the nullifying of an ordinance passed when General Musharraf held office, Mr Zardari no longer enjoys such immunity.

At the same time, the government is locked in an increasingly bitter battle with the military. Last week, Mr Gilani accused the chief of the army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the ISI head, Lt-Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, of acting unconstitutionally when they gave evidence to a judicial panel. The army angrily denounced Mr Gilani's comments and said they could have "potentially grievous consequences for the country". An increasingly emboldened Mr Gilani refused to withdraw his comments and sacked the Defence Secretary, a retired General.

Yesterday, Mr Gilani and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) earned something of a boost when the government secured passage of a resolution tabled by one its coalition partners and voted on by the parliament. The resolution, in favour of democracy, was easily passed and the Prime Minister used the occasion to again portray himself and his party as the victims of underhand actions. "We need no certificate to prove our patriotism," he said. Pakistan's Ary News reported that at a meeting of coalition allies prior to the vote, Mr Gilani had offered to stand down but it was decided he should appear in court.

Many believe the army is happy to sit back and allow the courts to take on the government. "What we are seeing is not so much a steep learning curve in the difficult transition to democracy as the ugly face of the politics of brinkmanship in Pakistan for which the chief culprit – as ever – is the army," Farzana Shaikh, a Pakistan expert at Chatham House in London, said.

Raza Rumi, a Pakistani columnist, said: "Gilani has announced that he is not stepping down... the PPP has decided to fight it out and will appear before the court. There is a history between the PPP and the judiciary as an institution and the PPP wants to leverage this court case to rebuild its image as the 'victim' party."

The army's fued with the government relates to the so-called "memogate" affair – a secret note was allegedly sent to the US military by Mr Zardari last spring seeking help in reining in his own generals. The military demanded an investigation into the matter, and it was to that panel that the army and spy chiefs gave their statements.

Yesterday, a judicial panel reopened its investigation. Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman who claimed he was the government's envoy to the Pentagon, was due to appear.

Blackberry maker refuses to give up data linked to 'memogate' affair

The BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIM) has earned itself a cameo role in Pakistan's political crisis following reports that it had refused to hand over data linked to the "memogate" scandal that led to resignation of the country's envoy to the US and opened a rift in the government's relationship with the military.

The company is said to have turned down the request from Pakistan's Attorney General, citing privacy grounds. Yesterday, RIM said that, while it would not speculate on individual cases, when it came it came to requests from legal authorities, it was "guided by appropriate legal processes" and principles as it balanced "any such requests against our priority of maintaining the privacy rights of our users".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?