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Zardari Flees to Dubai Again Under Cover of “One Day” Trip: Is He Finished?

Events continue to unfold at a very rapid pace in Pakistan. On Tuesday, I had noted, in comments to my post on the constitutional crisis facing the country over implementing the repeal of the National Reconciliation Ordinance, that Dawn was reporting that Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari had said that he is ready to resign if that is what his political party desires. Further, Zardari had called for a meeting of Parliament for today, along with a meeting just before that with high officials in his PPP political party.

In the meantime, Wednesday was very eventful, as the civilian government and military traded multiple charges back and forth over the continuing memogate controversy. In the midst of that tussle, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani fired the country’s defense secretary and the military announced a new head for a “brigade known for its prominent role in coups”.

Today, it appears that Zardari has once again fled to Dubai. Both a scheduled medical follow-up to last month’s hospitalization in Dubai and a wedding have been given as reasons for this trip. So far, I’ve seen no mention in any of the stories on his departure of the Parliament meeting and political party meeting that he had called for today. Neither a “scheduled” medical trip nor a trip for a wedding make sense as explanations for a sudden trip which cancels these hastily called meetings. Despite the explanation that this is a one day trip, I’d be very surprised if he chooses to return to Pakistan.

Reuters reports on Zardari’s departure:

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari flew to Dubai on a scheduled one-day trip on Thursday, a member of the ruling party and sources said, while tensions grew over a memo seeking U.S. help in preventing a coup by Pakistan’s powerful military.

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Relations between Pakistan’s civilian government and the military have reached their lowest point since a coup in 1999, reducing the chances that the leadership can take on the country’s enormous social and economic challenges.

Military sources say that while they would like Zardari to go, it should be through constitutional means, not another of the coups that have marked Pakistan’s almost 65 years of independence.

“There is no talk in the military of a takeover,” a mid-level army officer, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, told Reuters.

“I don’t foresee a military coup.”

The stage is set, of course, for the “constitutional” removal of Zardari, as his government has a deadline of Monday for responding to the Supreme Court on the NRO case. As noted earlier this week, the Supreme Court has threatened to find the civilian government unfit to rule if it does not respond properly to its rulings. Zardari’s sudden departure, only four days before that deadline, would appear to be an admission that he and his government have no response to the charges.

Meanwhile, as if the Supreme Court breathing down its neck weren’t enough, the Zardari government has further enraged the military with the firing of the defense secretary: Read more

Olmstead v. US on Rule of Law'>In Constitutional Showdown, Pakistan Supreme Court Cites Quaint Olmstead v. US on Rule of Law

Pakistan's Supreme Court today cited Louis Brandeis' eloquent dissent in Olmstead v. United States

The precarious hold that Pakistan’s civilian government has on power took another severe blow today, as the Supreme Court handed down a decision (pdf) which threatens to find Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani unfit to hold office. At issue is the failure of Pakistan’s executive branch to implement a number of corruption probes ordered by the Supreme Court when it overturned the 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2009. The NRO had provided amnesty to a number of political figures and parties in paving the way for a US-brokered planned transition from a Musharraf government to a likely Bhutto government. President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has steadfastly refused to implement the probes, citing immunity. Ironically, the Supreme Court cited the 1928 case Olmstead v. United States, in which the US Supreme Court upheld the use of illegal wiretaps in the prosecution of a bootlegger. The passage cited by Pakistan’s Supreme Court is from Justice Brandeis’ dissent and is an elegant call to observe the rule of law. Although Olmstead v. United States eventually was overturned, it is particularly ironic that Pakistan’s Supreme Court would cite this case in responding to executive branch claims of immunity at a time when the US is once again litigating the extent of executive branch and corporate immunity in a new era of illegal government wiretaps.

In documenting the crisis, Dawn quotes Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khosa:

Tuesday, Supreme Court’s Justice Asif Saeed Khosa remarked that despite clear court orders, the government and the NAB [National Accountability Board] were not serious about implementing court orders, DawnNews reported.

Justice Khosa said that the apex court was giving a last chance to the government to implement its verdict on the National Reconciliation Ordinance by Jan 16.

He said in case of non-implementation, the court would be forced to take certain steps which would not be “pleasant”.

Khosa goes on to complain that the government has had over two years to respond to the overturning of the NRO, but refuses to act:

He moreover referred to President Asif Ali Zardari and said that the president had, “in an interview, refused to accept the court’s orders”.

The prime minister and the law minister also publicly refused to accept the apex court’s orders, Justice Khosa said, adding that the president and the prime minister preferred loyalty to party over loyalty to state.

It is in response to this failure to act that the written decision cites Justice Brandeis’ dissent in Olmstead v. United States:

In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Read more