Country at the crossroads as elected government battles legal and political challenges.
The Pakistani prime minister has said he will comply with a supreme court order summoning him for a hearing related to his government’s failure in reopening corruption cases.
After the court issued a contempt of court notice against him on Monday, Yousuf Raza Gilani said he respected the decision and would appear for the hearing on January 19.
The setback delivered by the judiciary was offset somewhat by the boost Gilani received when he won a “show of confidence vote” in the national assembly, or parliament, which passed a “resolution in favour of democracy” later in the day.
Speaking during the vote, Gilani ruled out resigning, saying: “The court has summoned me, and in respect I will go on January 19.”
Gilani held a meeting with members of his governing coalition shortly before the parliamentary session. Local media reports said coalition partners advised him to comply with the supreme court’s order.
Monday marked the supreme court’s deadline to Gilani’s government for reopening the stalled corruption investigation against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
Maulvi Anwar-ul-Haq, the Pakistan attorney general, told a seven-member bench of the court that he had received no direction from the government in regard to a demand that information be provided on whether it was intending to act on pursuing a corruption case in Swiss courts.
The case, dating back to the 1990s, alleges that Zardari, among others, was involved in corruption. Both Zardari and Gilani belong to the ruling party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Gilani’s government has contended that Zardari, as president, has immunity under the constitution.
Separately on Monday, a commission appointed by the supreme court resumed hearings into the so-called Memogate scandal, which has angered the powerful army and threatened the stability of Gilani’s 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 last year’s US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s leader, near Islamabad.
The counsel for Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman who served as the intermediary for the memo, told the Memogate commission on Monday 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.
Tensions heightened last week over the Memogate scandal when Gilani criticised the armed forces for co-operating with the supreme court’s investigation into the affair without going through the proper channels in the civilian government.
Speaking in parliament after dismissing 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 investigation against the former.
In 2007, PPP leaders, including Zardari, 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.
Gilani’s government has argued that the constitution gives a sitting president amnesty from prosecution.
The ongoing confrontation between civilian leaders and the generals has prompted fears of another coup against an 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.