In a case that has been simmering for months, Pakistan’s Supreme Court today found Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani guilty of contempt of court for failing to carry through with investigation of corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari. Gilani’s “sentence” was brief, lasting only about 30 seconds until the court adjourned. Dawn’s description of what is likely to come next suggests that appeals of various sorts will take months to play out, but the largest opposing political parties are calling for Gilani’s immediate resignation.
From the Express Tribune:
The bench found Gilani guilty of contempt of court for refusing to reopen corruption cases against the president, but gave him only a symbolic sentence of a few minutes’ detention in the courtroom, while he did not receive any jail term.
“For reasons to be recorded later, the prime minister is found guilty of contempt for wilfully flouting the direction of the Supreme Court,” said Justice Nasirul Mulk.
A seven-member bench, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk announced the verdict and convicted him for violating Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 section 5 and the charges framed against him were for willfully disobeying the court’s orders and ridiculing it.
The court cited article 63 (1) (g) of the Constitution and observed that the premier might face consequences under it.
The long process ahead for appeals is described in Dawn:
Senator (R) Iqbal Haider said, “The fact remains that the PM has been found guilty of contempt of court and was sentenced under Article 63 (1) (g) of the Constitution of Pakistan. His sentence, no matter how short it was, has serious repercussions. The prime minister has been labelled as a convict.”
“Gilani will certainly file an appeal and will remain in his position till the final appeal is dismissed. At the same time, it is very important to understand that the dismissed appeal can also be filed for further review, providing the government with more time to drag the case,” added Haider.
According to Haider, if the review is also dismissed by the court, the matter will then be taken to the National Assembly of Pakistan. The debate will be initiated to assess the verdict and the speaker of the assembly, on the basis of unanimous decision, can file a reference in the Election Commission of Pakistan.”
“The Election Commission of Pakistan, reviewing all the charges and verdicts against the PM, will issue a notification for de-seating him entirely, however, I must also say that this notification can also be challenged by Gilani,” he added.
At a time when US relations with Pakistan were already on edge but potentially moving back toward cooperation on pursuit of terrorists and transport of NATO military supplies, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) on February 8 dished out a stellar performance during his
stunt hearing on Balochistan, where he mispronounced the name of the region so badly that one Pakistani press account decided to refer to him as Donna Rohrbacher. Rohrabacher now has teamed up with intellectual titans and foreign policy experts Steve King (R-IA) and Louis Gohmert (R-TX) to submit H. Con. Res. 104 on Friday, calling for an independent Balochistan. The arrogance inherent in this action has produced massive anti-US demonstrations in Pakistan that threaten to deteriorate relations even further.
Rohrabacher’s resolution, which is co-sponsored only by King and Gohmert, ends:
Whereas it is the policy of the United States to oppose aggression and the violation of human rights inherent in the subjugation of national groups as currently being shown in Iran and Pakistan against the aspirations of the Baluch people: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that the people of Baluchistan, currently divided between Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status among the community of nations, living in peace and harmony, without external coercion.
Never mind that the US is coercing many countries and cultures in the region at the current time, Rohrabacher wants Pakistan’s “coercion” of Balochistan to stop now.
Today’s rally against the resolution was large. From the Express Tribune:
As several quarters in Pakistan join the chorus to condemn a bill on Balochistan moved in the US Congress, thousands of Difa-e-Pakistan Council supporters rallied in Islamabad against American intervention in Pakistan.
“Today, we have gathered here to raise a voice of protest against US intervention in Pakistan,” DPC Chairman Maulana Samiul Haq told the participants who had gathered at Aabpara Chowk in the federal capital on Monday.
“America wants to break Pakistan into pieces,” Haq said, in reference to the resolution in America, introduced by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher which calls upon Pakistan to recognise the Baloch right to self determination. “Our protest is against the possible resumption of Nato supplies, US and Indian occupation and to strengthen the country’s defence.”
In his much-anticipated appearance today before Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was represented by Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan. [I must admit to a bit of bias here. Ahsan became something of a personal hero to me when he organized Pakistan's Black Flag Week in March of 2008, eventually resulting in thousands of lawyers taking to the street and successfully securing the release and reinstatement of the Supreme Court Chief Justice who had been sacked and arrested by Pervez Musharraf. The picture at left is a screengrab from this YouTube of an appeal he sent out in organizing Black Flag Week.] The proceeding against Gilani was adjourned until February 1, in order for Aitzaz to prepare his case more fully. It also appears that Gilani has been excused from further personal appearances at the court.
In other Pakistan developments today, it appears that Ahmed Shuja Pasha will not have his term extended again as head of Pakistan’s ISI spy agency. The selection of a new ISI head will provide yet another front of intrigue in the ongoing struggles between the Zardari government and Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces. Also, it appears that Pakistan is getting close to re-opening NATO’s supply routes through the country, but with the addition of tolls.
Here is Dawn on the court proceedings:
The Supreme Court on Thursday adjourned the prime minister’s contempt hearing to Feb 1, leaving a brewing political crisis over corruption cases and presidential immunity unresolved.
The court has also exempted the premier from appearing for the upcoming hearing of the case.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appeared in the court today to explain why he should not be charged with contempt for failing to re-open old corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Ahsan requested the court for a month’s time to file a response. He said the time was required to access and go through the case’s record. Responding to which, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said that access to records could be provided in two days’ time.
The dramatic accusations made by Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen in yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing provoked immediate, strong reactions from Pakistan. Here is how the Washington Post described Mullen’s testimony:
Last week’s attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and a Sept. 10 truck bombing that killed five Afghans and wounded 77 NATO troops were “planned and conducted” by the Pakistan-based Haqqani network “with ISI support,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The ISI is the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
“The government of Pakistan and most especially the Pakistani army and ISI” have chosen “to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy” to maintain leverage over Afghanistan’s future, Mullen testified during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta also testified.
As seen in the video above, Mullen’s remarks provoked a sharp response from Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar:
“You will lose an ally,” Khar told Geo TV in New York in remarks broadcast on Friday.
“You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan, you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people. If you are choosing to do so and if they are choosing to do so it will be at their (the United States’) own cost.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also chimed in. From GEO:
The United States should take care of the feelings of 180 million people of Pakistan while issuing statements or commenting on important issues, said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday.
He said, “Our 180 million people want to defend their motherland and its sovereignty”.
“US cannot live with us and without us,” he said and added “thus the United States should avoid sending ‘wrong messages’ which would affect the bilateral ties”.
From these comments, it is clear that both Khar and Gilani are warning the US that Pakistan could withdraw all cooperation if the war of words continues.
I will stand by the prediction I made yesterday:
Should the US be successful in attaching some sort of cooperation requirement for US funding to flow to Pakistan, look for some sort of token move by Pakistan that will provide even more heated rhetoric. The situation likely will then be resolved by Pakistan grudgingly cooperating in an action against the Haqqani network. The most important point to watch for in this current “crisis” will be to see just how high in the Haqqani network Pakistan is willing to go in sacrificing a part of it to the US in order to keep their seemingly endless supply of US funds flowing.
Stay tuned for further developments.