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Pakistan's Prime Minister Faces Contempt Order


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

The civilian government of Pakistan has been under absurd amounts of pressure ever since it won election about four years ago. It's squeezed by the army - which reluctantly surrendered power - by the United States, by a host of insurgents and also by Pakistan's Supreme Court.

That court has now initiated contempt of court proceedings against the prime minister. The government is accused of defying orders to start corruption cases against high-ranking officials including the president, Asif Ali Zardari. NPR's Julie McCarthy was in the courtroom in Islamabad. She's on the line.

Hi, Julie.


INSKEEP: So what happened in the Supreme Court in Islamabad today?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think what we're witnessing today in this court was a very legalistic and restrained way of tightening the screws on the government of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Zardari.

Why? The court is furious about how the government has not responded to court orders. Chiefly, they'd like to see the government reopen these corruption cases that, of course, include President Zardari. These cases had been closed under a deal that then-President Musharraf had cut with Zardari and his late wife Benazir Bhutto.

The court came along in 2009 and overturned those. And in a contemptuous court order last week, said that this government absolutely showed no interest in carrying out the court orders, which would have reopened cases. So today, the justices demonstrated that they've had it. And they have called the prime minister to the court to tell them why he shouldn't be held in contempt on Thursday.

INSKEEP: So we're talking about old corruption cases that were sealed. There was an effort to put them behind everybody at the end of the old military government some years ago. The court says no, we want to go back. We want you to go back. What are they telling the government to do exactly? Prosecute itself?

MCCARTHY: Well, really the options that they gave the government in an order that was issued last week are so draconian that they amount to that. They amount to non-options for the government. They included disqualifying the prime minister from office because he had violated his oath to uphold the constitution. The constitution requires office holders to be - I'm quoting here, Steve - "sagacious, honest, non-profligate and righteous."

The same option of disqualifying himself was given to the president. To stand disqualified from office for violating his oath and holding the Supreme Court, the supreme law of the land, in contempt. One other option, quite an interesting one that the court put out, was to turn this whole showdown over to the people of Pakistan, maybe in a referendum, maybe in an early election. But so far, the government here hasn't shown any appetite for early voting before its term is up in 2013.

INSKEEP: I'm just taking notes of those requirements - sagacious, non-profligate, honest. Tough requirements.


INSKEEP: But in any case here, a challenge for this government, and I think a question on a lot of people's minds is whether this civilian government or any civilian government can actually survive a full term in Pakistan. There's more than a year to go in the official five-year term of this government.

MCCARTHY: That's right. What you have are all kinds of forces now arrayed against the government. You've got the judiciary arrayed against them. There is a showdown now with the military and this government. And, of course, you've got an opposition that is smelling blood and baying for early elections. And the question really is at this point, as you say, how long can they hold on. How long they can stay has become a parlor game right now.

INSKEEP: Do they have any time or energy to do things like run the country or fight the insurgency?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, this is the whole problem with an embattled government. It spends most of its time trying to fend off the battlers and those who are warring with it.

And meanwhile, there's no gas in this country. The energy situation is deplorable. People don't have heating. They can't cook. And that's the real day-to-day governance that people want to see and they haven't seen from this government. And so the people themselves, I'm told by a lot of people, wouldn't be sad if they saw the back of this government.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Julie, thanks very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.