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Pakistan premier is told to renew case against Zardari

The Supreme Court's warning seeks to get a Swiss corruption proceeding restored.

January 11, 2012|Alex Rodriguez
  • A man injured in a bomb blast in the town of Jamrud in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber tribal region puts on a shoe before being taken to a hospital. The Pakistani Taliban was suspected in the attack.
A man injured in a bomb blast in the town of Jamrud in Pakistan's northwestern… (Qazi Rauf / Associated Press )

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Ratcheting up pressure on Pakistan's embattled civilian government, the nation's Supreme Court on Tuesday threatened to dismiss Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from office if he does not revive corruption proceedings against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani and Zardari, who heads the ruling Pakistan People's Party, are struggling to survive withering attacks from the country's military and judiciary, both powerful institutions that harbor long-standing animosity for the two civilian leaders.

Zardari's government is already caught in the middle of a scandal involving accusations leveled by a Pakistani American businessman. Mansoor Ijaz says that last year he was asked by Pakistan's then-ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, to pass on to U.S. officials in Washington a memo seeking the Obama administration's help in fending off a potential military coup. Experts say Zardari could be forced from power if it's proved that he engineered or authorized the memo, which incensed the military.

The high court's remarks Tuesday center on its 2-year-old decree that the government must send a letter to the Swiss government requesting the reopening of corruption charges against the president. That case stems from Zardari's conviction in absentia in 2003 in Switzerland on money-laundering charges.

The case was suspended while he and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, appealed and was later dropped at the request of the Pakistani government. Gilani's administration refuses to seek a reopening of the case.

"Obedience to the command of a court ... is not a game of chess or a game of hide and seek," Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa wrote in the ruling handed down Tuesday. Khosa said Zardari and Gilani have allowed "loyalty to a political party and its decisions to outweigh and outrun their loyalty to the state."

There was no immediate reaction from Gilani or Zardari. The Supreme Court has also established a judicial commission to investigate Ijaz's allegations, which if substantiated, could lead to treason charges against Haqqani and impeachment proceedings for Zardari.

At the commission's first hearing Monday, Haqqani reiterated that he had no connection to the memo.

The country's political turmoil comes at a time when insurgent violence appears to be rising after weeks of relative quiet.

A bomb blast that killed at least 29 people Tuesday at a bus terminal in a tribal area along the Afghan border may have been an attempt by militants to avenge the death of a top commander, local officials said.

The bomb was planted in a pickup truck parked in front of a gasoline pump in Jamrud, a small town in the tribal region of Khyber, said the region's top government official, Mutahir Zeb. The explosion injured at least 27 people, many of whom were hospitalized in critical condition.

No group had claimed responsibility for the blast as of Tuesday afternoon. However, local officials said they believed the attack may have been carried out by the Pakistani Taliban, an insurgent group that has been battling the country's military for years.

Taliban leaders were angered by the death of Qari Kamran, a militant commander killed New Year's Day by Pakistani soldiers during a raid on his compound in the Khyber region. Kamran led the insurgent group's operations in the northwestern city of Nowshera.

Last week, Pakistani Taliban leaders said the killing of 15 Pakistani paramilitary troops that they kidnapped from a fort near the Afghan border in December was in retaliation for Kamran's death. A few days later, the bodies of 10 other paramilitary soldiers abducted by militants Dec. 24 from their base in the Orakzai tribal region were found near the Afghan border. Authorities said the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for the killing of the second group of soldiers.

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alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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