Pak in fresh chaos, SC orders PM arrest
Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in a corruption case on Tuesday afternoon, dramatically raising the stakes in a tense standoff between the government and its opponents.
The court order came as an enigmatic preacher turned politician, Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri, addressed thousands of supporters outside parliament and repeated calls for the government’s ouster. In earlier speeches, he has said that a caretaker administration led by technocrats should take its place.
The confluence of the two events stoked growing speculation that Pakistan’s powerful military was quietly supporting moves that would delay general elections that are due to take place this spring, most likely through the imposition of a military-backed caretaker administration.
It was not certain that the two events were linked. Some analysts said that in calling for the prime minister’s arrest, the court, which is led by the independent-minded Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was simply taking advantage of anti-government sentiment generated by Qadri in order to pursue its longstanding grudge against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Whatever the motivations, the court’s actions added to the chaos in Pakistan, with the stock market dropping 3 per cent.
In its order issued Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered the National Accountability Bureau, a government body that investigates graft, to arrest Ashraf and 15 other senior current or former officials, including a former finance minister and a former finance secretary.
The case relates to longstanding allegations that Ashraf took lakhs of rupees in kickbacks as part of a deal to build two electricity power plants as minister for water and power between March 2008 and February 2011. The order comes more than a year after two opposition figures filed a complaint in the Supreme Court against Ashraf. In March 2012, the court had ruled that the power plants were illegal, ordered their closure, and instituted proceedings against Ashraf.
Fawad Chaudhry, a senior adviser to Ashraf, said that any attempt to arrest the prime minister would be “illegal and unconstitutional.” “Under the law, the court cannot arrest him,” he said.
President Zardari has called a meeting of senior advisers at his Karachi residence to discuss the crisis late Tuesday, he added. Zardari’s supporters have painted the prosecution as part of a politically tinged drive by Justice Chaudhry to unseat Zardari.
Whether there was any link between the court order and Qadri’s march on Islamabad — billed by the preacher as a “million man march” but in reality far smaller — the timing was certainly striking.
In his speech Qadri — who returned barely one month ago to Pakistan from Canada, where he also holds citizenship — demanded immediate resignation of the government and painted the country’s elected politicians as “criminals”.
“There is no parliament. There is a group of looters, thieves and dacoits!” he said in a thundering voice, pointing to the building behind him. “Our lawmakers are the law breakers.”
In contrast, Qadri offered fulsome support for the military and the Supreme Court, both of which have been at odds with Zardari’s government. “Now only two institutions are there — the judiciary and the armed forces,” he said.
Responding to the allegations that he is secretly supported by the military, Qadri said he was being supported by Allah and the people of Pakistan.
Still, theories about a link between the two players and the military are not easy to reconcile. Over the last year Justice Chaudhry has openly clashed with top generals, as part of his court’s bid to carve out its independence. He has also stressed that his court will not act as a rubber stamp to military rule, as it has in the past, and earlier on Tuesday he reportedly stressed the importance of holding elections by mid-May.
Be the first to comment.