- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2012

Pakistan’s government faced a constitutional threat Monday from the Supreme Court, which began contempt proceedings against the prime minister for failing to reopen a corruption investigation against the president.

The court’s action coincides with a rift between the elected, civilian-led government and the South Asian country’s military, which has carried out three coups since Pakistan won its independence in 1947.

What’s more, the court’s action has raised doubts about the stability of the government in Islamabad, a key U.S. ally but one with which the Obama administration has had a tempestuous relationship during the past year.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani will appear before the court Thursday to explain his refusal to comply with its orders. He could face up to six months in prison, lose his seat in parliament and be disqualified from holding office if he is convicted.

Mr. Gilani’s government received some good news later Monday, when the majority of the lawmaking National Assembly approved a pro-democracy resolution.

Mr. Gilani told lawmakers that he respects the courts, but that neither the army nor the judiciary can derail democracy in Pakistan.

“The army and the judiciary, they both have to protect democracy in Pakistan,” he said in a televised speech. “They can’t remove democracy. They can’t pack up the system.”

Pakistan’s most recent coup occurred in 1999, when Gen. Pervez Musharraf led a bloodless takeover of the government.

Last week, the Supreme Court warned Mr. Gilani that it could dismiss him for defying its orders in a corruption investigation against President Asif Ali Zardari.

The court has focused on a corruption probe by the Swiss government against Mr. Zardari that was stalled in 2008 after an amnesty gave Pakistani politicians, including the president, immunity from such investigations.

Pakistani Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who clashed with Mr. Musharraf when he was president, also has had a rocky relationship with Mr. Zardari.

The confrontation between the judiciary and the government has erupted at a time of tense relations between Mr. Gilani and the army.

The army warned the prime minister last week of “serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences” after he criticized army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, in connection with the so-called Memogate scandal.

Mr. Gilani responded by firing his defense secretary, a former army officer and an ally of Gen. Kayani. The prime minister described the standoff with the army as a choice between “democracy and dictatorship.”

The Supreme Court’s actions coincide with its decision to set up a commission to investigate Memogate.

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