Pakistan plunged into a political crisis on Tuesday with the Supreme Court ordering the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf within hours of Pakistani-Canadian cleric-politician Tahir-ul Qadri calling for immediate dissolution of Parliament and assemblies. Just as Dr. Qadri was holding forth on his future course of action after the expiry of “his” deadline for the dissolution of the assemblies, the Pakistan Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the Prime Minister in a pending case relating to his days as Power Minister.
The federal government remained outwardly unfazed with Law Minister Farooq Naek maintaining that the Court had not ordered the premier’s arrest but left the decision to the National Accountability Bureau.
However, the confusion that accompanied the Court’s order was immediately reflected in the Karachi Stock Exchange where initial reports suggested that the index fell by more than 500 points during intra-day trading. As developments outpaced each other, all political parties went into their respective conclaves to assess the situation and formulate their response. Mr. Ashraf spoke over the phone with coalition party leaders and Opposition leader, former premier Nawaz Sharif.
According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s House, there was consensus on upholding the Constitution and the democratic system while dealing firmly with any attempt at subversion. President Asif Ali Zardari, who is in Karachi, convened a meeting of his party leaders there.
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan struck a discordant note with a demand for involving all parties in the formation of the interim government.
As news about the arrest order of Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf was announced to the thousands gathered outside Parliament, the congregation erupted in celebration; deeming it a victory of their agenda for change. Cleric-politician Tahir-ul Qadri, who had organised the “million man” march, fuelled this sentiment by saying “Mubarak-ho” (congratulations) thrice and adding: “Half speech delivered and half goal achieved. Tomorrow, I will deliver [the] second half and you will achieve remaining goals.’’
His goals are not clear as the cleric has been shifting his goalposts frequently. One steadfast demand has been to ensure that all stakeholders, including the judiciary and the military, are consulted in the process of setting up the caretaker government which will oversee the elections due before May end.
Though there is no clear indication of a connection between Dr. Qadri’s demand for immediate systemic overhaul and the order to arrest Mr. Ashraf in the Rental Power Plants case, immediate linkages were drawn by analysts all too familiar with the machinations of the establishment. More so because Dr. Qadri — whose sudden arrival on Pakistan’s political firmament has been described as a “stalking horse for invisible forces’’ out to derail the democratic process — was all praise for the judiciary and the military in his afternoon speech.
As the conspiracy theories thickened, another school of thought emerged that saw the Court order — which calls for the premier’s arrest within a day but does not necessarily disqualify him yet — as a way to defuse the situation created by Dr. Qadri and his followers picketing Parliament House. Following the afternoon’s developments, the crowd thinned though officially the siege is yet to be lifted.