Contempt notice issued against Pakistan PM

Supreme court begins proceedings against Yousuf Raza Gilani over inaction in reopening corruption cases.

Gilani faces another test in the national assembly, where opponents are calling for early elections [EPA]

Pakistan’s supreme court has issued a contempt of court notice against Yousuf Raza Gilani, the country’s prime minister, for not complying with orders related to reopening corruption cases.

Gilani has been summoned to appear before the court on January 19, and Rehman Malik, the interior minister, has said Gilani will comply.

Maulvi Anwar-ul-Haq, the Pakistan attorney general, told a seven-member larger bench of the supreme court on Monday that he had received no direction from the government in regard to a demand that information be provided on whether the government was intending to act on pursuing a corruption case in Swiss courts.

The case in the Swiss courts, dating back to the 1990s, alleges that Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s current president, among others, was involved in corruption.

Monday marked the court’s deadline to Gilani’s government for reopening the stalled corruption inquiry against Zardari.

Gilani’s government has contended that the president has immunity under the constitution.

Memogate hearings

Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder reported from Islamabad that the court’s decision was “an important development”, and that Gilani was left with limited options, including apologising to the court.

“The court, of course, can accept that apology. But so far the government appears to be on a collision course, not just with the judiciary but also with the military,” he said.


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What happens next

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Media reports sugggested that Gilani met members of his ruling coalition before a session of the parliament, where a “democracy resolution” was put to vote.

Gilani had called for Monday’s “show of confidence vote” in the National Assembly in search of a symbolic boost for his government.

Separately, a commission appointed by the supreme court resumed hearings on Monday into the so-called Memogate scandal, which has angered the powerful army and threatened the stability of the elected government.

A secret memorandum allegedly written by Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington asked the US for help in thwarting a possible military coup in the aftermath of the US raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory.

The ongoing tussle between civilian leaders and the generals has prompted fears of another coup against the elected government.

Civil-military distrust has plagued Pakistan for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling for more than half of its 64-year history.

The counsel for Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman who served as the intermediary for the memo, told the Memogate commission on Monday morning that his client had been receiving “death threats”, and requested to be given until January 25 to appear before the body.

RIM, the maker of Blackberry cellphones, meanwhile, has told the commission that it is unable to release data related to the case.

The date of the next hearing in the case has been set for January 24.

Heightened tensions

Tensions heightened last week over the scandal when Gilani criticised the armed forces for co-operating with the judiciary’s investigation into the affair without going through the proper channels in the civilian government.

Speaking in parliament, after sacking the defence secretary, Gilani said the confrontation was nothing less than a choice between “democracy and dictatorship”.

Inside Story: Pakistan’s civil-military tensions

His comments followed a warning from the generals – who were infuriated by the memo – of possible “grievous consequences” ahead.

An army statement said Gilani’s criticism of the army had been “divisive”.

Last week, the supreme court threatened to dismiss Zardari and Gilani if they continued to ignore its demands to reopen the corruption investigations against Zardari.

It ordered government representatives to appear in court on Monday to explain what they planned to do.

In 2007, the leaders of Zardari’s PPP were granted a controversial blanket amnesty over corruption charges under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).

The supreme court later struck down the NRO as being unconstitutional, but its rulings were never widely implemented, particularly when it came to pursuing legal cases against Zardari and other senior officials.

The PPP government has argued that the constitution gives a sitting president amnesty from prosecution.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies