Pakistani authorities are going through difficult times: Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani was convicted of disrespect of court for his refusal to reopen the case of corruption against Asif Ali Zardari, widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. As a punishment, on April 26 the Supreme Court took Gilani into custody - although only for 30 seconds.
Zardari's alleged money laundering took place back in the 1990s, for which he had already served two years. In 2007, the then military leader Pervez Musharraf signed a decree on general amnesty, which "cleared" Zardari and thousands of other criminals, but two years later the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the decree unconstitutional, and in 2010 ordered Gilani to address the Swiss authorities with a request to resume the investigation of corruption against Zardari. Then the Prime Minister refused to do say, saying that, according to the Constitution, the president has immunity from prosecution.
The sentence was purely symbolic: the action of the punishment lasted for as long as it took the judges to leave the courtroom. However, despite the fact that the judge spared the Prime Minister, clouds have thickened over Gilani's personal political horizon. He may at any time be not only impeached, but imprisoned for six months. The fellow party members of the Minister from the ruling Pakistan People's Party are dissatisfied with the outcome of the case. "This is a black day in the history of the country," the former Minister of Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan told reporters gathered outside the courthouse.
The political crisis in Pakistan has overshadowed even the traditionally main theme of the day - the U.S. efforts to restore diplomatic relations with this country that got seriously complicated when on November 2011 American warplanes accidentally bombed two Pakistani border outposts, killing 24 servicemen.
Gilani's retention of power right now, experts say, will ensure the relative stability of the country, which should contribute to the rapid restoration of Pakistani-US cooperation in the fight against terrorism - the U.S. has already hinted to Pakistan that it would be nice to open the border for NATO convoys supplying U.S. forces in Afghanistan. However, analysts disagree on the fact what the court had in mind taking out his sentence - perhaps the fact that Gilani should give up his seat in Parliament and his position? In any case the outcome is close.
Gilani has been on his post as the Prime Minister longer than anyone else in the entire 64-year history of the country - he has been heading the government since 2008. The politician has yet another achievement - he became the first minister to be sentenced: half of his predecessors were charged, but until now a court decision has not been reached. Gilani, however, did not lose his confidence. After the punishment he had held a special meeting of the Cabinet where he displayed optimism, saying that in politics there were a lot of rises but also plenty of failures.
If the court finds that Gilani would have to go to jail, he will not equivocate, stated the Prime Minister. This prospect raises fears for the fate of the fragile Pakistani democracy - it can suddenly collapse, and Islamist insurgents will happily dance on its ruins.
"Frankly, we will soon come to anarchy, very soon," shook his head Senator Safdar Abbasi, a member of the Pakistan People's Party. "The government must put an end to this crisis. It's like playing with a loaded gun."
Gilani and Zardari have never been particularly close, so the risk that the Prime Minister is taking shielding the President seems to many not noble, but rather stupid. However, it is believed that the 59-year-old prime minister did not want to be humble any longer and decided to show off. "He's probably thinking that he has already made history and the Supreme Court can do whatever it wants," said journalist and broadcaster Nusrat Javid. According to another theory, Gilani wants to act as a sneaky political martyr, a vassal, wholly devoted to his master. In any case, the ruling party will not take any action if Gilani is forced to resign, although the politicians acknowledge that there is no adequate replacement for him.