Now, some observers predict that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is headed back behind bars. The Supreme Court on Friday denied his attempt to block his prosecution and ordered him to appear in court on Monday to be indicted on contempt charges.
The charge, which carries six months in jail and possible removal from office, stems from Gilani’s adamant refusal to pursue an old money-laundering case brought by Swiss authorities against President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani has asserted that the constitution grants Zardari immunity, but the court insists rule of law would be subverted if the prime minister were allowed to flout its orders.
Gilani, who has held his job since 2008 and is the longest-serving prime minister in Pakistan’s history, has said he will go to jail if the court orders him to. That prospect has raised fears that Pakistan’s fragile democracy could well collapse at a time when the nuclear-armed, strategically vital country is already wracked by an Islamist insurgency, severe energy shortages and economic crisis.
“Frankly, we are going toward anarchy very, very soon,” warned Sen. Safdar Abbasi, a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party who has long called for Gilani to cooperate with the courts. The contempt battle has dominated political discourse for too long, he added, while leaders ignore the pressing problems of their constituents.
“The government should end this crisis,” Abbasi said. “It’s like playing with a loaded gun.”
Because Gilani and Zardari were never particularly close, pundits are still puzzling out the prime minister’s motivations for risking his job for Zardari, who has dismal popularity ratings and a long rap sheet of kickback, shakedown and other corruption allegations.
Some see the 59-year-old prime minister finally shedding his unassuming personality and coming into his own. “He has shown backbone, he has shown grit,” said Ayaz Amir, an opposition member of parliament and columnist.
The contempt charge stems from a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional a national amnesty enacted two years earlier. That amnesty cleared Zardari and thousands of others of past alleged crimes. The court ordered the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities requesting that they reopen the corruption cases against Zardari, who was investigated along with Benazir Bhutto, his late wife and a former prime minister, for their financial dealings there in the 1990s.
Besides staring down the court, Gilani recently lashed out at the country’s powerful military and intelligence establishment. During an episode known here as Memogate, he bristled at the military’s efforts to control the investigation of a mysterious missive that sought U.S. help in averting a coup d’etat after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.