ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s top court said Tuesday it could dismiss the prime minister unless he begins corruption proceedings against the president, opening another front against a government already under pressure from the army.
The political turmoil comes as the nuclear-armed country is struggling with urgent economic and security challenges and a deteriorating relationship with the United States, which thinks Islamabad’s help will be crucial in ending the war in Afghanistan.
A five-judge panel accused the government of “willful disobedience” and said “the buck stops” at the office of Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani, whom it called “dishonest.”
The ruling warned that the court could declare him unfit to hold office and dismiss him if he does not implement its earlier verdicts. It also ordered the attorney general to appear before the court next week to explain the government’s foot-dragging.
Hours before the Supreme Court ruling, Islamist militants bombed a tribal militia opposed to the insurgency in its heartland close to the Afghan border, killing 30 people and proving the resilience of extremists despite repeated army offensives and U.S. missile strikes since 2008.
The conflict with the court has been brewing since 2009, when judges struck down an amnesty protecting President Asif Ali Zardari and hundreds of other politicians from prosecution on graft and other charges and ordered cases against them to be reopened.
The government has dragged its feet on doing that, arguing that the president has immunity from prosecution.
Some independent commentators say the Supreme Court, which on three previous occasions has sanctioned military coups, is hostile to the current administration and is working with the army to oust it through constitutional means.
They say political pressure is growing to topple the government before Senate elections scheduled for March, which are expected to give Mr. Zardari’s party the majority in the upper house, which will give him significant political power for the next six years, regardless of whether the party performs badly in general elections next year or sooner.
Government lawmaker Babar Awan dismissed Tuesday’s ruling but didn’t say what the government’s strategy would be.
It may decide to cooperate on a limited scale with the court, seeking to drag out the affair until after the Senate elections or beyond. It also is unclear whether the court has the appetite to dismiss a democratically elected government, despite its rhetoric.
Mr. Zardari is a major beneficiary of the graft amnesty, which was part of a broader U.S.-backed deal to allow his wife, the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and her allies to return to Pakistan in 2007 and take part in elections safe from prosecution on charges they said were politically motivated.
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