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As if the current multiple crises and plethora of problems facing Pakistan are not enough, the Supreme Court has ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf in a corruption case. While the Court is constitutionally within its right to carry out its duties, even against high-profile officials in government, the timing of the decision and its consequences have given rise to conspiracy theories – the most talked about one being that there is an effort to delay the general elections which is due to take place this spring.
The arrest order against Raja will drastically intensify tensions between the government and its opponents, which include the Supreme Court too. The case relates to allegations that Ashraf took millions of dollars in kickbacks as part of a deal to build two electricity power plants when he was a minister between 2008 and 2011. A court prosecution in the case has been ongoing for a year, so it was the timing of the arrest order that raised suspicions. The Supreme Court’s relationship with the government has been acrimonious, with the independent-minded Chief Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry determinedly pursing a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.
The court order coincides with two other developments: first, the uprising against the government being engineered by an enigmatic preacher-turned politician, Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, whose is currently camping in Islamabad with tens of thousands of his followers demanding the resignation of the government and electoral reforms, and second, the escalating tension on the border with India which has triggered fears of a war. With elections round the corner, Qadri’s motives are suspect, especially since he has been effusive in his praise of the military and the Supreme Court. But he is able to bully the government because it is weak.
Also, a weak government will not be able to deal with tension on the border, where forces with ulterior motives could be operating on the sly to scupper the progress painstakingly made so far in relations with India.
All these events may not be linked, but their cumulative effect can destabilize the government and add to the chaos. What Pakistan needs is a stable and powerful government which is capable of handling multiple crises. But the sad fact is that the judiciary, the military and the government are operating as disparate forces and are engaged in a struggle to gain supremacy. The result has been the strengthening of extremist forces and an increase in lawlessness.
It’s difficult to predict how events will unfold, but the coming days are crucial. A hardening of positions will cause chaos on the streets and stalemate in governance, both of which will destabilize the country.•