Pakistani Court Tells Premier to Push Inquiry of President
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani Supreme Court on Thursday gave the new prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, two weeks to restart a corruption investigation of President Asif Ali Zardari, setting the stage for a new confrontation in the months-old battle between government and judiciary.
The court, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, ordered Mr. Ashraf to write a letter to the authorities in Switzerland requesting that they reopen a graft case against Mr. Zardari that dates from the 1990s. Few believe that he will do so; his predecessor, Yousaf Raza Gilani, refused an identical order that resulted in his dismissal from office by the court last month.
Should Mr. Ashraf also be dismissed by the court, it would push the country into renewed political turbulence that could set off early elections. The Zardari-led government’s five-year term ends next March, and elections could take place as late as June — something most analysts now feel is unlikely.
The confrontation between government and judiciary has consumed Pakistan’s political system over the past seven months, at a time when the country faces pressing challenges including severe energy shortages and a renewed wave of militant attacks.
Hours before Thursday’s court hearings, at least nine trainee prison guards were killed in the eastern city of Lahore. Unidentified gunmen stormed a house where 32 trainees, mostly police officers from northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, were lodging.
“We will continue attacking jail police if they do not stop mistreatment and insult of our mujahedeen,” said Ihsanullah Ihsan, a militant spokesman. “We have the ability to hit our targets wherever we want.”
Muhammad Ameer, a police officer who was slightly wounded in the attack, said he had been sleeping on the roof when he heard gunfire. In the ensuing panic, several of his colleagues escaped by jumping over walls surrounding the house, he said.
“It was just like a war,” he said. “Bullets were fired in all directions.”
There was a similar episode on Monday, when seven army soldiers and a police officer were killed after unidentified gunmen opened fire at a riverside military camp. Taliban militants later claimed the responsibility for the attack.
Such attacks in Punjab, the country’s most populous and prosperous province, are usually rare. Police officials said they could be the handiwork of a single militant group.
During Thursday’s court case Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, who led a five-member bench, directed Mr. Ashraf to write to the Swiss authorities and submit a report to the court on July 25. “Failing which, the court may initiate any appropriate action under the Constitution and the law,” the court order stated.
Analysts say Mr. Zardari’s government is unlikely to comply. His political lieutenants have consistently resisted the court’s orders using stalling tactics; in recent days they enacted new legislation in a bid to clip the court’s wings.
Early Thursday, Mr. Zardari signed into law a bill that shields top government officials from contempt charges — the same charges that Mr. Chaudhry’s court used to unseat Mr. Gilani, the previous prime minister. Many analysts believe that bill will eventually be thrown out by the court.
“The government and the judiciary both are heading toward yet another confrontation,” said Omar R. Quraishi, an editor at the Karachi-based newspaper The Express Tribune. “The question is why is the court insistent, given that the Swiss are unlikely to reopen the case?”