Pakistan Supreme Court Orders Arrest of Prime Minister
Islamabad – Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the prime minister in connection with a corruption case linked to power projects, television channels reported on Tuesday, plunging the country into fresh political turmoil. The move came as a populist cleric, who is believed to be backed by the military, demanded the resignation of the government in protests attended by thousands of followers in the heart of the capital Islamabad.
The Supreme Court gave authorities 24 hours to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and 16 others. Pakistan’s stock exchange fell by nearly three percent after news of the court order, highlighting anxiety over political uncertainty. The cleric, Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, threatened to remain camped out near the federal parliament with thousands of supporters until his demands were met. Qadri recently returned home from Canada to lead a call for reforms that has made him an instant hit among Pakistanis disillusioned with the state.
It was not clear how much of a potent threat the two events posed for the U.S.-backed civilian government, but the court order and the mass protest around the parliament complex are the latest in a series of challenges for the administration. In a speech from behind a bullet-proof shield in front of parliament, Qadri praised the military and the judiciary, the country’s two other power centers.
“(The government) has wasted and brought a bad end to our armed forces, those armed forces who are highly sincere, highly competent and highly capable and highly professional,” he said, alternating between Urdu and English. “Even they can’t do anything because the political government isn’t able to deliver anything from this land. Judgments are being passed by our great, independent judiciary but the government is not ready to implement them.”
A spokesman for the cleric said protesters would remain camped around parliament until the government dissolved the legislature and announced the formation of a caretaker government. At one point, security forces fired in the air and used tear gas to try and control the crowd. Interior Minister Rehman Malik later told local television channels the government would not cave in to Qadri. “We will not accept Qadri’s pressure because his demands are unconstitutional,” Malik said. (Reuters)