The fate of Pakistan’s embattled leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari, could be decided on Monday when the Supreme Court takes up the memo scandal and high-profile graft cases even as the beleaguered government has turned to Parliament for crucial support.
The National Assembly or lower house of parliament is expected to vote on Monday on a resolution that seeks endorsement and support for “efforts made by the political leadership for strengthening democracy” and calls for reposing “full confidence and trust” in them.
Even as parliament considers the resolution, a 17-member bench of the apex court will resume hearing of a case related to the reopening of corruption cases that were closed under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007.
A judicial commission appointed by the apex court to investigate a mysterious memo that sought U.S. help to prevent a feared military coup in Pakistan last year will also continue its proceedings on Monday.
Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who triggered a storm in the country’s political circles by making public the memo, is slated to testify before the commission tomorrow though doubts continue to surround his plans to travel to Pakistan.
The Supreme Court had warned last week that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani could be disqualified and that action could also be taken against Mr. Zardari if the government kept defying its orders on the NRO issue.
The court had said that Mr. Gilani “may not be an honest person on account of his not being honest to the oath of his office”. It further warned that the President could face the “same consequences” for violating his oath of office.
Amidst the pressure from the judiciary, the government has been engaged in a bruising confrontation with the powerful military over the memo scandal.
The apex court accepted Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s request for an independent probe into the matter while rejecting the government’s contention that the issue should be investigated by a parliamentary panel.
Tensions between the government and the military reached a peak last week after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the army and intelligence chiefs had acted in an “unconstitutional and illegal” manner by filing affidavits on the memo issue in the Supreme Court without getting the government’s approval.
The military reacted within days through a strongly worded statement that said the premier’s remarks could have “grievous consequences”.
Mr. Gilani retaliated by sacking Defence Secretary Lt Gen (retired) Khalid Naeem Lodhi, a confidant of Kayani.
The premier charged the former general with “gross misconduct” and creating misunderstandings between the government and the military.
Amid the government-military stand-off, Mr. Gilani on Saturday appeared to reach out to the powerful army but Gen Kayani is reported to have adopted a tough stance and wants withdrawal of the Prime Minister’s statements critical of the military.
Mr. Gilani said that all state institutions will be allowed to play their role.
The apex court has been building pressure on the government since it struck down the NRO, which benefited President Zardari and 8,000 others, in 2009.
It has pressured the government to write to Swiss authorities to reopen cases of alleged money laundering against Mr. Zardari but the government has refused to do so, saying the President enjoys immunity under the Constitution.
Mr. Zardari himself has said that the government will not approach the Swiss authorities as long as he is in office as such a move would be tantamount to putting on trial the grave of his wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, who too had benefited from the NRO.
Some of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party’s allies and even top leaders of the party like former minister Aitzaz Ahsan have suggested that the government could deflect some of the pressure on it by writing to the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases.
Mr. Ahsan said on Saturday that such a move would not affect the President, as he enjoys immunity even outside Pakistan under the Vienna Conventions.
The resolution seeking support for democracy was moved in parliament on Friday by the Awami National Party, a key ally of the PPP, and other several partners of the PPP, like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and PML-Q, have announced they will back it.
Analysts believe the ruling coalition will be able to push the resolution through though the House could witness a heated debate on the issue, given the main opposition PML-N’s intention to take on what it perceives as a weakened PPP.
The PML-N has already held consultations with other opposition parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam on putting pressure on Mr. Zardari to quit and pave the way for an early general election.