Supreme Court orders Pakistani government to reopen corruption cases in 24 hours

By Asif Shahzad, AP
Monday, March 29, 2010

Pakistan court orders govt to reopen graft cases

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the government Monday to reopen a slew of corruption cases within 24 hours, including at least two against the president, escalating tension between the government and the judiciary.

The two branches have been at odds since President Asif Ali Zardari was elected in 2008, and some analysts believe the court’s push to revive cases that had been covered by an amnesty protecting scores of politicians has been politically motivated.

Tension between the two sides has been a concern for Washington, which wants the government to stay focused on battling Taliban and al-Qaida militants who attack U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.

“Take all the petitions and all the cases from A to Z and revive them by tomorrow,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry ordered the government during a court hearing Monday. “The law has to take its course.”

His comments came more than three months after the court ruled the amnesty issued by Zardari’s successor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was unconstitutional. It covered thousands of cases against politicians, bureaucrats and party workers dating back to the 1990s.

Some of the cases have been reopened, but the court’s actions Monday seem to indicate it believes the government is dragging its feet on others.

One case requires the government to ask Swiss authorities to reopen a money laundering suit against Zardari. But the government has argued that Zardari enjoys immunity as president and has not acted.

One of the six judges in Monday’s hearing, Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramdey, alluded to Zardari, saying “even if somebody has become a king, he, too, is not exempted.”

But the court did not specify what it would do if the government failed to act by Tuesday.

“Historically in Pakistan, many controversial judgments handed down by the court have not been implemented,” said Cyril Almeida, an opinion writer for Dawn, a leading English-language newspaper.

Government officials could not be reached for comment on the judge’s order.

Musharraf introduced the amnesty as part of a U.S.-backed deal to allow Zardari’s wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to return from self-imposed exile in 2007. Bhutto was killed in December of that year, and Zardari took over the party afterward.

Zardari’s strained relationship with the judiciary stems from his delay in reinstating the chief justice, who had been dismissed by Musharraf — a move that only heightened public anger against the former general and energized protests against his rule.

Zardari promised to return Chaudhry to office once in power, but resisted for six months until he was forced to act by opposition-led protests.

Almeida, the opinion writer, said the troubled history between the two permeates the dispute over the corruption cases. He said the court’s only real option to put further pressure on the government if it fails to reopen the cases would be to call the president or prime minister before it.

“I’m not saying it won’t play that card, but when it does play that card, it’s game over in terms of the judicial game,” said Almeida. “It’s then a naked political fight, and how that breaks down, who knows?”

Heightened tension between the government and the judiciary could be a distraction as the country continues to experience regular militant attacks.

A suicide bomber struck a meeting of anti-Taliban volunteers in the northwestern city of Tank on Monday, killing one person and critically wounding two others, said police official Kauser Ali.

Also Monday, police arrested three militants belonging to an al-Qaida-linked group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, in the southern city of Karachi and seized 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of explosives, said senior police officer Omar Shahid.

“They were planning to hit the central jail with an explosives-laden vehicle to burst in and release the inmates,” Shahid said.

Associated Press Writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Ashraf Khan in Karachi and Sebastian Abbot in Islamabad contributed to this report.

will not be displayed