ISLAMABAD — The political and legal crisis in Pakistan took a new turn on Tuesday when the Supreme Court threatened to dismiss Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for failing to comply with court orders to reopen corruption cases against his political boss: President Asif Ali Zardari.
The latest pressure from the court compounds the problems of the governing Pakistan Peoples Party, already facing a political crisis over a controversial memo that sought U.S. support in thwarting a feared military coup.
Adding to the government’s troubles is a steep increase in terrorist attacks. Another attack occurred early Tuesday, a truck bombing that the authorities said killed more than 25 people, including women and children, in northwestern Pakistan. A senior government official said the bombing appeared to be in retaliation for the recent killing of a militant leader.
Since December 2009, when the Supreme Court struck down an amnesty that nullified corruption charges against thousands of politicians, the court has insisted that the government reopen corruption cases against Zardari.
But the government has resisted court orders, and Zardari said last week that, “come what may,” officials from his party would not reopen the graft cases filed against him and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, in Switzerland. Bhutto was assassinated in 2007.
On Tuesday, a five-member panel of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, ruled that the government was guilty of “willful disobedience” and said Gilani was “dishonest” for failing to carry out the earlier court orders.
The judges laid out six options — including initiating contempt of court charges, dismissing the prime minister, forming a judicial commission, and taking action against the president for violating his constitutional oath — and ordered the attorney general to explain the government’s position in court on Monday.
A three-member judicial commission that is investigating the controversial memo is scheduled to resume its hearing the same day. Apart from having an acrimonious relationship with the judiciary, the government has an uneasy relationship with the country’s top generals.
Zardari, who spent 11 years in prison on unproved corruption charges, says the corruption cases against him and Bhutto that date to the 1990s were politically motivated.
In an interview last week with GEO TV, a news network, Zardari said reopening those cases would be tantamount to “a trial of the grave” of his wife.
Zardari also claims immunity as president, but the judiciary, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, has resisted that claim and has aggressively pursued cases against Zardari’s party, leading many government officials to speculate that the judiciary was being used by the country’s powerful military to dismiss the government before the March elections for the Senate, in which the Pakistan Peoples Party is expected to win a majority.