My best representation of Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani looks nothing like him, but it’s free
Let’s rename Pakistan Ironistan, as in a country where ironies never seem to cease.
The country’s Supreme Court has just disqualified its Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for refusing to ask Switzerland to reopen a multimillion dollar corruption investigation against President Asif Ali Zardari. That’s where Ironistan comes into play.
It is now up to the same Zardari, whom Gilani appeared to be shielding, to uphold the constitution by upholding the prime minister’s disqualification and thereby clearing the way for his own potential downfall over corruption. On April 26, the prime minister was convicted of contempt of court for his refusal to request the Swiss to reopen the investigation.His sentence was for about 30 seconds as judges concluded the day and left the courtroom.
The corruption allegations against Zardari date back to the 1990s, a period during which he and his late wife, then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were accused of having stashed away in Swiss bank accounts $12 million received in bribes for granting contracts to various companies. Both strongly denied the charges, dismissing them as political vendetta.
After Zardari was elected president in 2008 the Swiss essentially gave up pursuing the charges. It is those charges that the Supreme Court wants reopened. Gilani has insisted that a Swiss judge had closed the case “on merit” and Zardari enjoys constitutional immunity. What makes the latest development so ironic is that in disqualifying Gilani and asking the president to accept it , the Supreme Court is in a sense asking Zardari to shed his own constitutional immunity.
On the face of it, this may seem like a case of corruption but in reality it is a much deeper example of profound institutional conflict between the country’s political, judicial and military establishments over the control of Pakistan’s destiny. There are those in Pakistan believe that the military is backing the judiciary against the political establishment in this particular standoff.
It is not clear what Zardari and his ruling Pakistan People’s Party might do after the verdict. It is always possible to appoint a new prime minister but that does not necessarily release the government from its obligation of requesting the Swiss to reinvestigate the corruption charges.
It is hard to escape the impression that this is more a battle about who has supremacy over the state of affairs in Pakistan than just one simple case of bribery. Zardari would be the happiest man as long as the larger issue obscures his own more troublesome personal problem. One cannot say with certainty whether the people of Pakistan would buy the argument that the judiciary is meddling in its democratic political process but, equally, the court too stands to lose if that perception indeed gains ground.
For now, technically Gilani ceased being Pakistan’s prime minister effective April 26. What that means is that for close to two months, in the estimation of the country’s highest court, Pakistan has had a prime minister who ought not have served but did anyway. Ironic.