JANUARY 16 2012 07:29h
Gilani, Zardari face tests
Their beleaguered civilian government, locked in a tense relationship with the country's powerful military and its intelligence agency over a memo scandal, also faces a tough time in the high court over the same scandal as well as past graft cases.
The memo scandal stems from allegations last October that the Zardari government, through its former ambassador Hussain Haqqani, sought U.S. help to prevent a military coup in the country. Though the government has denied any involvement, the scandal rages and is now being investigated by the high court through a panel it has set up.
Gilani has sought support for his government from Parliament through a resolution in support of the political leadership for strengthening democracy and seeking the assembly's "full confidence and trust" in the leadership.
Besides the memo scandal, the high court was to resume a hearing on reopening some of the past corruption cases that had been closed under a graft amnesty ordinance, the Press Trust of India reported.
The corruption cases also involve Zardari.
Ahsan Butt, a Harvard research fellow, told the Voice of America, the Supreme Court could play a major role in the current crisis that could force the resignation of the government and calling of early elections.
Although the memo issue had been played down by the government, Pakistan army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has told the high court it must be investigated. Kayani also dismissed any rumor of a military coup, announcing support for the country's democracy.
Gilani, however, has said the current standoff is a choice between "democracy and dictatorship," VOA reported. That comment led to strong reaction from the army.
The military is also upset over Gilani's dismissal last week of Defense Secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a former general known to be close to Kayani, accused of misconduct. The dismissal was seen as an attempt by the government to assert control over the military.
On the corruption cases, the high court has threatened to dismiss Gilani if he doesn't reopen them against his boss, Zardari and several other as ordered by it in 2009 after it struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance amnesty. The Gilani government has said Zardari has presidential immunity.
The Los Angeles Times, quoting analysts, said while the army is fed up with the Zardari government, it is not looking for a military takeover, which could invite strong global criticism.
The analysts said the military, instead, seems to be aligning itself with the Supreme Court, which has strong public support as well as legal authority to threaten the Zardari government.
"Both are acting in a manner in which they are reinforcing each other," political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told the times. "They are very quietly and discreetly helping each other â€¦ even if there doesn't appear to be a formal arrangement between the two."
There were some Pakistani media reports recently quoting military sources as saying the army is ready to carry out any action ordered by the high court against the government.
Asma Jahangir, a leading lawyer, told the Times in a telephone interview: "The army still holds a great deal of power in Pakistan. And if their status quo is not only maintained but they're patted on the back by the judiciary, then I'm afraid the civilian government doesn't have much to stand on." Jahangir had been an attorney for Haqqani, who resigned after the memo scandal surfaced.
The report said the Zardari government is already unpopular among the masses because of the country's severe economic troubles and domestic violence.
The Zardari government's immediate task is to survive until March with a strong showing in Senate elections, which would help strengthen the ruling his party. National elections are slated for 2013.
"That's what the opposition parties, along with the Supreme Court and the military, want to stop," analyst Rizvi told the Times.
Gilani, speaking to reporters Sunday said under the Constitution, he is answerable only to Parliament and not to any individual, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported.
He was reportedly answering a question on reports that Kayani had asked Zardari to ask Gilani to take back his remarks about the military chief.
"I am not answerable to any individual ... whenever Parliament wants, I will present my viewpoint," Gilani was quoted as saying by other reports.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the Obama administration backs Pakistan's civilian leaders. She said her government expects "Pakistan to resolve any of these internal issues in a just and transparent manner that upholds the Pakistan laws and constitution."
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani faced critical political tests Monday before the Supreme Court and Parliament.