Pakistani PM Appears Before Supreme Court

Posted January 19th, 2012 at 5:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani made a rare appearance before the country's Supreme Court Thursday in a bid to avoid being held in contempt for failing to pursue a decade-old Swiss corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari.

Gilani told the court his government was unable to initiate legal proceedings against the president because he has immunity while in office.

The hearing took place amid tight security, as well as increased tensions between the government and the country's fiercely independent judiciary. The Supreme Court will reconvene early next month, but said the prime minister does not need to appear again in person.

Prosecutors accuse Mr. Zardari and his wife, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, of laundering millions of dollars through Swiss bank accounts. But the initial case was dropped after a 2007 amnesty deal designed to promote national reconciliation.

The controversial amnesty agreement that protected Mr. Zardari and thousands of others from prosecution was canceled by the Supreme Court two years ago.

If convicted, Gilani could face up to six months in prison and be disqualified from holding political office. That could further destabilize the government and push President Zardari into deeper political trouble.

There are also concerns about Pakistan's powerful military, which has also been at odds with Islamabad.

The most recent flare-up came after the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May. An unsigned memo leaked after the raid allegedly showed that Pakistan's civilian government sought Washington's help in removing the current military leadership.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Gilani accused army chief General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence head Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha of acting unconstitutionally by making unilateral submissions to the ongoing inquiry.

In response, the military said Mr. Gilani's remarks would have “very serious ramifications” and “grievous consequences” for the country.

The political tensions come at a time when the country's ties with the United States are at their lowest since November, when a cross-border NATO air strike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.