What Pakistan court ruling implies

PAKISTANI court’s decision to annul an immunity protecting politicians including President Asif Ali Zardari has not only created a political turmoil in the country but has also put a question mark on US war in Afghanistan.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan last week quashed a controversial law — National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) — introduced in 2007 by the then President General Pervez Musharraf to withdraw corruption charges against late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, her husband Asif Ali Zardari and around 800 other politicians and bureaucrats. The court declared that the discriminatory law was contradictory to the constitution of Pakistan.
The verdict has stirred a political storm in the country as some of top aides of President Zardari including interior minister Rehman Malik and defence minister Ahmad Mukhtar are now facing prosecution.
The authorities have also included the names of over 200 politicians including four ministers in Exit Control List (ECL) after the ruling. On Thursday Pakistani defence minister was not allowed to board a plane, enroute to China, for an official visit because his name was on the ECL.
Although as President, Zardari still has immunity against criminal cases under article 248 of Pakistani constitution, he has come under immense pressure from the opposition to resign as the Supreme Court has also asked the government to pursue graft cases against him in Swiss courts. Zardari’s opponents believe that the legitimacy of his 2008 election as President could be challenged now as the old cases against him have been revived.
President Zardari has not been enjoying very good relations with the powerful military establishment. This new ruling would further raise questions about his ability to effectively function as head of state.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani, who was hand-picked by President Asif Ali Zardari is facing a very tough situation now as his government has been directed by the court to take action against members of his own party. So far, he has been vocal in support of independent judiciary and has vowed to implement the court decisions but at the same time he has been putting up a stout defence of President Zardari and other members of his party.
The court proceedings in these high-profile corruption cases are due to start this week. So the next few weeks are critical as they will determine the future course of Pakistani politics. The government and other political forces would have to be very careful during this period as any misguided adventure could derail the democratic system in the country.
Pakistan is already going through a tough time as its forces are battling a fierce Taliban insurgency. On the other hand the United States, has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to go after Afghan Taliban factions on Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Tensions between the Pakistani government and the US administration have manifested through the recent moves from both sides. Islamabad last week rejected visa applications of some US officials on security grounds while US administration has threatened to cut Pakistani development assistance in a tit-for-tat response.
In these circumstances, a looming confrontation between judiciary and the executive is something that the country can hardly afford.
To avert this crisis, the government would have to demonstrate a genuine will to implement the Supreme Court’s order and allow the law to run its course. Good governance and transparency would be the best course of action to tackle the political challenge.
The NRO beneficiaries including President Zardari have consistently been putting forward the defence that the cases and investigations against them were politically motivated and have no basis in fact. So now they have the opportunity to prove their innocence in courts of law.
The opposition parties would also have to proceed with caution. They must realise that a stable democratic system is the only way to eliminate the threat of another military takeover. However one can hope that the democratic system of Pakistan would emerge stronger from this watershed event.

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