Pakistan’s Supreme Court yesterday found embattled Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in contempt of court for not complying with orders related to re-opening corruption cases and summoned him to appear in person.
The move escalated the pressure on Pakistan’s weakened civilian government, which faces separate court procedures that could unseat its leadership and force early elections at a time of soaring tensions with the powerful army.
It marks only the second time that contempt of court procedures have been initiated against a sitting prime minister in Pakistan. Gilani was summoned to appear in court on Thursday.
In November 1997, then--Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was also found in contempt in a case which ultimately led to the resignation of then-Pakistani president Farooq Leghari.
“The Supreme Court has issued a contempt of court notice to the prime minister for not complying with its orders,” Judge Nasir-ul-Mulk told the court which met to debate how to proceed on graft charges against the president.
“He has been directed to appear personally on Jan. 19.”
The Supreme Court wants the government to write to Swiss authorities demanding that they re-open old corruption cases against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, which the government has so far refused to do.
Zardari and his Pakistan People’s Party leadership say the president has immunity from prosecution as long as he remains in office.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court judges convened to debate six options on how to proceed on graft charges against Zardari, which included finding Gilani in contempt, disqualifying the prime minister and president, and holding early elections.
Pakistani Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq told the court he had been given no instructions from the government on how to proceed over the options.
“We are left with no option but to issue a show cause notice to the prime minister of Pakistan [for him to explain] as to why he shall not be proceeded against for contempt of this court,” Mulk said.
Zardari is also under pressure from an investigation into who was behind efforts to solicit US help to prevent a coup apparently feared in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death and to curtail the power of the army.
Former Pakistani ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, a close Zardari aide, was forced to resign over a secret memo written in May and the Supreme Court ordered an inquiry on Dec. 30 following a demand from the country’s chief spymaster.
Later yesterday, the lower house of parliament was scheduled to hold a confidence vote in the civilian leadership amid the simmering row with the military.
Tensions reached fever pitch last week when the prime minister sacked the defense secretary, who was considered close to the military. The army then warned of “potential grievous consequences for the country.”
Gilani has moved to calm tensions, praising the military’s role in a meeting of the Cabinet defense committee attended by Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani.
The commission investigating “memogate” has been given four weeks to find out who was responsible for the note and is expected to determine later this month whether Islamabad endorsed it.
The attorney general told the commission he had been unable to obtain crucial evidence — Blackberry message data sent between Haqqani and businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who claims to have acted as a go-between on the memo.