Pakistan turmoil deepens as court orders PM's arrest

Tue Jan 15, 2013 5:31pm EST
 

By Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Katharine Houreld

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the prime minister on Tuesday on corruption allegations, ratcheting up pressure on a government that is also facing street protests led by a cleric who has a history of ties to the army.

The combination of the arrest order and the mass protest in the capital, Islamabad, led by Muslim cleric Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, raised fears among politicians that the military was working with the judiciary to force out a civilian leader.

"There is no doubt that Qadri's march and the Supreme Court's verdict were masterminded by the military establishment of Pakistan," Fawad Chaudhry, an aide to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, told Reuters.

"The military can intervene at this moment as the Supreme Court has opened a way for it."

However, the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has a majority in parliament and lawmakers can simply elect another prime minister if Ashraf is ousted. In June, Ashraf replaced Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who was disqualified by the Supreme Court in a previous showdown between the government and the judiciary.

Elections are due in a few months and President Asif Ali Zardari hopes to lead the first civilian government in Pakistan's 65 years as an independent nation that will complete its full term.

But power struggles will distract the unpopular government from tackling an array of problems - a Taliban insurgency, economic stagnation and growing sectarian tensions triggered by bomb attacks and tit-for-tat shootings.

The military, which sees itself as the guarantor of Pakistan's stability, has long regarded the PPP-led government as corrupt, incompetent and unable to prevent the nuclear-armed country from falling apart.   Continued...

 
Supporters of Sufi cleric and leader of the Minhaj-ul-Quran religious organisation Muhammad Tahirul Qadri gather around Qadri 's vehicle (R) as he addresses them on the second day of protests in Islamabad January 15, 2013. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra