By Omar Waraich
…. Despite the court’s apparent determination to press ahead with the high-profile case, there is little prospect of Zardari’s government falling. If the court finds Gilani guilty, legal experts say, it won’t be any time soon. The case could drag on for the next few weeks, averting any sudden crisis. And in the event that Gilani is convicted, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) can name a replacement and hold on to its coalition government. …
…. For the government and its supporters, the Supreme Court’s actions amount to little more than a judicial coup in slow motion. Casting a withering eye at the court’s record, they say that the judges have concentrated their ire against the government while mostly sparing the military and the political opposition. The PPP also has a history of the hostility toward the judiciary, stretching back to party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s hanging in 1979 on a trumped-up murder charge. ….
…. The government also appears to be girding itself for the worst outcome, casting itself as a political victim — something that could help rally the ruling party’s base at the next elections. They are determined not to incriminate Zardari by writing the letter to the Swiss authorities. If Gilani is no longer able to remain prime minister, the PPP is discussing the possibility of appointing Makhdoom Shahabuddin, another politician from southern Punjab. If Shahabuddin ends up being disqualified, too, the PPP may use that “victimization” to enhance its standing in the politically crucial battleground of southern Punjab.
In a landscape where the army still bears the stains of Musharraf’s dictatorship, and where politicians are perceived as inept, distant and venal, the Supreme Court can claim a rare source of much-prized “moral authority.” When the prominent politician Mushahid Hussain was asked during a lecture in Karachi who was ruling the country, he said that it was the Chief Justice.
At the same time, many independent legal experts still see the court as tilting the playing field. Last month, when rumors coursed through Islamabad suggesting that the government could sack the military chiefs, the court demanded confirmation that no move would be made against the army. The move challenged the government’s prerogative of appointing military chiefs.
“The Supreme Court in Pakistan is a completely new axis that has emerged,” says Vali Nasr, professor of international politics at Tufts University. However, despite its decisions that favored the military establishment …..