The fate of Pakistan's civilian government remained unclear on Friday in the midst of its stand-off with the powerful military and the Supreme Court which is expected to give a ruling on Monday that could determine the outcome of the current political crisis.
As embattled President Asif Ali Zardari returned home from an overnight visit to Dubai, his ally, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, addressed an emergency session of the National Assembly convened by the ruling coalition where he declared that “either there will be a democracy or dictatorship” in the country.
Ruling coalition lawmakers introduced a resolution in Parliament which pledges “full confidence and trust” in the political leadership and emphasises that all state institutions must act within the parametres of the Constitution, an apparent reference to the influential Army, which has been accused of interfering in the political arena.
The resolution would be voted on Monday, the day a full 17-member bench of the Supreme Court will hear the government's response to a six-point “do-or-die” ultimatum given by it to the government to reopen old graft cases against Mr. Zardari and others.
The government has so far refused to carry out these orders, prompting the apex court to say that it could take action against Mr. Zardari as well as Mr. Gilani. The court had described Mr. Gilani as “not an honest man”.
After convening an emergency meeting of his Corps Commanders on Thursday, Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has made no further moves even as speculation about a possible military coup ebbed.
The widely held view in political circles is that the Army, that has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 64-year history, was reluctant to directly topple the government in the present scenario.
The possibility of a “constitutional coup” — the Supreme Court taking action against the government that will lead to its ouster — is also being widely debated.
As the President returned from his Dubai visit that had triggered questions as to whether he was being pushed out of office, his spokesman Faratullah Babar dismissed reports that Mr. Zardari was concerned about his political future. “He is comfortable and perfectly alright,” Mr. Babar said.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani media on Friday reported that Pakistan Army's top commanders have decided to throw their weight behind the Supreme Court in its standoff with the civilian government over the memo scandal and the revival of high-profile graft cases.
During their meeting on Thursday, the Army's top commanders “appear to have their eyes set on the apex court to deal a decisive blow against the beleaguered” government, The Express Tribune reported.
Military officials told the daily that General Kayani's long consultations with top commanders focussed on the Army's deepening rift with the government. According to an unnamed military official, the commanders decided the Army would stand behind the apex court.
As the Army seems to have hardened its stand, Mr. Gilani is in combative mood.
During his speech in Parliament he said, “I have no need for a vote of confidence.” In his speech, Mr. Gilani was very critical of the opposition.
He said his government did not need the opposition's support to tackle the crisis caused by the apex court's order to reopen graft cases that were scrapped under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a graft amnesty issued by the previous military regime in 2007.
The NRO was scrapped by the apex court in 2009.
A defiant Mr. Gilani blamed the former military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, for the NRO, saying the “presumed beneficiaries” of the graft amnesty were being punished while the architect of the NRO was making plans to return to Pakistan from self-exile and asking the people to welcome him back.
The Premier acknowledged that his government had made “mistakes” but said democracy should not be punished for this.