The political turbulence in Pakistan has taken yet another bizarre turn.
Just two days after the nation’s highest court disqualified Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding the office of Prime Minister, the man nominated to replace him by President Asif Ali Zardari has been arrested.
A judge in the city of Rawalpindi has ordered the detention of PM nominee Makhdoom Shahabuddin in connection with imports of the illegal drug ephedrine while he served as Pakistan’s health minister in 2010.
Shahabuddin has denied the charge.
Still, Shahabuddin will reportedly still be considered by Parliament on Friday on a vote to select the new PM. It is unclear if the arrest order will scuttle his nomination or not.
Pakistan state TV reported that in the event Shahabuddin is disqualified by his arrest, another minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, would be proposed as a substitute.
Shahabuddin is a prominent member the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), who most recently served as textiles minister under Gilani. He also served in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the ex-wife of Zardari.
“I am thankful from the bottom of my heart [to Zardari],” Shahabuddin told reporters.
“Today is a special day because it is Benazir Bhutto’s birthday and I send my congratulations on this birthday to all party workers.”
Aside from Shahabuddin and Ashraf, PPP member Qamar Zaman Kaira and Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz has also filed their nomination paper to become PM.
Khan is former chief minister of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and an MP from Abbottabad, the city where U.S. Navy Seals found and assassinated Osama bin Laden last year.
In addition, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) also filed nomination papers for the Prime Ministry. Rehman is a right-wing Islamist, but also an ally of Gilani.
Meanwhile, the frayed relations between Pakistan’s civilian government and the courts seem to be worsening.
Gilani was essentially dismissed from his post for refusing to initiate a corruption charge against Zardari related to the laundering of millions of dollars in a Swiss bank back in the 1990s. Gilani countered that as the head of state Zardari was immune from any investigations.
Whoever becomes the PM next will also face pressure from the courts to start a probe of Zardari, meaning the crisis could persist indefinitely.
Pakistan media is generally alarmed by the developments of recent days and widely suspects that the powerful military is behind these machinations (using the courts as a cover).