Inside Story

Government vs. judiciary in Pakistan

Pakistan has been plunged into further political turmoil as its Supreme Court disqualifies the country’s prime minister.

The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has accepted a Supreme Court decision disqualifying Yusuf Raza Gilani from his post as the country’s prime minister.

“There is a much bigger task before the Pakistan People’s Party and that is how to depoliticise the judiciary because the common perception … is that the judiciary now is highly politicised …. Why should the chief justice be above any kind of accountability?

– Taj Haider, the secretary-general of the PPP in Sindh

Gilani was convicted two months ago of contempt of court, for refusing to open a corruption case against his ally, Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president.

And as part of the Supreme Court ruling, any decisions made by Gilani since his April 26 contempt of court conviction can now be challenged.

This will further complicate an already complex situation for the government, as in that time Gilani made several decisions as prime minister, including some related to the national budget.

Pakistan’s ruling coalition partners have held emergency meetings to choose a new prime minister.

Zardari nominated textile industry minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin, according to state television reports.

But an anti-narcotics court has now issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for Shahabuddin, along with one for Ali Musa Gilani, the youngest son of the former prime minister.

“There’s definitely a case that the Supreme Court is flexing its muscles here, and there’s quite a tussle here between the parliament and the Supreme Court. In a bizarre way, this is quite good because it shows that these critical institutions [in Pakistan] are developing some muscle, it’s just a question of what effect it will have on the stability of the country.

– Julian Richards, an associate of the Pakistan Security Research Unit

Shahabuddin is a long-term PPP member and has held four portfolios in the past four years under Gilani.

Many believe the battle between the judiciary and civilian leaders is a political one, in which both sides have been timing their moves carefully, and that Gilani was caught in the middle of a bitter grudge match between Iftikhar Chaudhry, the chief justice, and Zardari that dates back years.

Tuesday’s ruling plunges Pakistan’s political system into further turmoil.

So, what is behind the latest crisis in Pakistan? And will it escalate the long-running confrontation between the government and the judiciary?

Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses with guests: Taj Haider, the secretary-general of the ruling PPP in Sindh province; Julian Richards, the co-director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham and an associate of the Pakistan Security Research Unit; and Amjad Malik, the chairman of the UK-based Association of Pakistani Lawyers and family lawyer of Nawaz Sharif, who is the leader of Pakistan’s leading opposition party.

“This is a golden day in Pakistan’s history whereby it has been held that whether it’s the prime minister of the country, whether it’s the son of the chief justice or whether it’s any other layman, all are equal before the eyes of the law.”

Raja Aamir Abass, a senior Supreme Court lawyer


  • The Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify Yusuf Raza Gilani is retroactive, going back to April 26
  • The court ordered the president to nominate a new prime minister
  • The ruling coalition is approaching the end of its term in February
  • This government would be the first to serve a full five-year term
  • Analysts say the disqualification may lead to an early general election
  • Gilani became prime minister of Pakistan in March 2008
  • In April, the Supreme Court found Gilani guilty of contempt
  • Gilani was convicted for refusing to open a corruption case against the president, Asif Ali Zardari
  • Zardari says the charges against him are politically motivated
  • Zardari postponed a trip abroad to deal with Gilani’s disqualification