The crisis between Pakistan’s civilian government and its powerful military escalated to a new level after the nation’s Supreme Court said it will indict Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on a charge of contempt in connection with his refusal to investigate corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Gilani is required to appear before the court on February 13, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).
Already weakened by a series of seemingly never-ending scandals and crises, Gilani may be forced to call new elections under pressure from both the judiciary and military.
According to the Dawn newspaper of Pakistan, if Gilani is convicted of contempt, he faces up to six months in prison and would be disqualified from holding public office in the future.
The corruption allegations relate to Zardari laundering money in Swiss banks. However, the Pakistani government insists the president is immune to prosecution while he serves as head of state.
Moreover, Swiss authorities have themselves abandoned the probe against Zardari.
But it’s more complicated than that.
In 2007, the government of former President Pervez Musharraf agreed to a political amnesty for exiled ex-leader Benazir Bhutto and other politicians (including Benazir’s husband, Zardari) that would leave them immune to corruption charges. However, a Pakistani court overturned that measure in 2009.
Thus, Zardari’s legal status with respect to the corruption charges and the amnesty are unclear. Gilani is likely serving as a fall-guy for powerful forces in the military and judiciary who simply want Zardari removed from power.
Thus far, neither Gilani nor his ruling Pakistan Peoples’ Party have released a response to the indictment. Gilani’s lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, told Pakistan media it might be possible to appeal the court’s ruling.