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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project