Supreme Court Orders PM Ashraf’s Arrest | Q&A

Jan 2013
By M.T.

Pakistan’s Surpreme Court has ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf along with 15 others over corruption allegations.

The prime minister has been accused of receiving bribes for power generation projects in 2010.

The call for his arrest comes as firebrand, Tahir ul-Qadri, led thousands of protesters in a “long march” to Islamabad against government corruption. Qadri is demanding the resignation of the current government and reforms before the upcoming elections. This year would mark the first time in Pakistan’s history when–if all goes well–there will be a peaceable transfer of power from one formally democratic, civilian government to the next.

We asked analyst and writer Nadir Hassan, and democracy and human rights activist, journalist Beena Sarwar, about the possible consequences of the SC’s order.

Tanqeed: If the PM is arrested, does this mean the government is in trouble?

Beena Sarwar: Well, the situation is still unfolding. Regarding the arrest order: At this moment, according to one legal opinion, the prime minister may be accused but is not a convict nor has he been disqualified.

Nadir Hassan:The government doesn’t have to be in trouble. It can put forward a new candidate for a vote in the national assembly whenever it wants. Or, it can dissolve the assemblies, appoint a caretaker government and announce elections. I’m sure the army will try to take advantage of this, but the sooner the PPP acts, the less likely democracy is in danger.

TQ: The Chief Justice has said that elections will be held no matter what. Do you foresee any effects this might have on the elections?

Beena Sarwar: Elections were due to be announced soon anyway. Giving such ultimatums does not show political maturity, but expedience, and smacks of not-so-hidden agendas. The people of Pakistan have the right to vote a government in or out. No one should be able to take this right away from them. Especially not those who know they don’t have a hope in hell of getting elected. Which is why they are showing their teeth, obviously with strong backing from those who still pull the strings of the country’s politics behind the scenes.

Nadir Hassan: Elections might be held a little earlier, but otherwise I don’t see any effect. For democracy to be abandoned would require the military, the Supreme Court and PML-N to act in concert, and that just isn’t a very likely scenario.

TQ: What do you think about the timing of the Supreme Court’s order coming in the midst of Tahir ul Qadri’s demonstration?

Beena Sarwar: The timing of the arrest order is certainly not coincidental, coming as it does right when the pressure is building up against the government. As Asma Jehangir said, you would have to be a very naive person to believe that the order for the prime minister’s arrest and Tahir ul Qadri’s long march have no connection. As for the long march: I want to know what gives Tahir ul Qadri the right to come from Canada–where he’s a national–and try to bully the elected Pakistani government to give in to his demands about elections and a caretaker setup. What gives him the right to assist the end of the tenure of this government, when it was due to announce elections anyway? Where was he for the past five years? For heavens’ sake, let at least one elected government complete its tenure, hold elections and hand over power to the next government. Let the democratic political process at least start in Pakistan. Democracy is not an event, it’s a process. If unelected people keep marching in, and subverting it, and not letting it continue, we’ll keep sliding back to square one, and to policies made by unelected military dictators, that have led us to the current situation to begin with.

I agree with those who smell a rat–with military boots–behind this whole thing.

Nadir Hassan: In Pakistan, the timing for any action you take will seem suspicious. The Sureme Court has been investigating the rental power plant case since before Ashraf was chosen as prime minister, and an arrest has been likely since then. The Supreme Court has repeatedly asked the interior ministry to place Ashraf on the exit-control list, but those orders were ignored. On Friday, the Supreme Court told the National Accountability Bureau to arrest the accused, and then adjourned the case till today. So, this really isn’t that huge a surprise.

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One Response to Supreme Court Orders PM Ashraf’s Arrest | Q&A

  1. EH on Jan 2013 at 10:10 AM

    Thank you MT and NH for the timely update. I only want to comment on your last point, in that I disagree with it completely. Four hours ago I thought the events of today were scripted. But now I face a far more horrifying reality: that it wasn’t scripted, but just played out with callous opportunism.

    NH is right, the SC had been trying to get the culprits of the RPP scandal arrested for many months now. Many people though PM Ashraf would be arrested weeks, if not hours, after he took the oath of PM. The knowledgeable narrative in July-August ’12 was that if PPP writes the Swiss letter, Ashraf will be spared. That if Zardari grovels sufficiently, he might be allowed to keep this PM.
    Of course we now know that the SC doesn’t dabble in such politics. Instead it charges along with a legal-ethical logic that only it understands: calling for a PM’s arrest while the country’s capital is on lockdown, held hostage by a man challenging the Constitution they, the SC, have sworn to uphold.

    The irony is that Ashraf does deserve to be arrested. He’s deserved to be arrested for the last five months. But surely, not at a moment where any false move, any sense of panic could lead to collapse. Not when people have been bombarded with images of a failed “democracy,” of democracy “failing” them, for 24+ hours. Scripted? Or callous opportunism? And which is worse?

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