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BBC – How Gilani turned contempt case from catastrophe to triumph

By M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

Excerpts;

Slogans of triumph

….. For today’s hearing, the prime minister wore the Pakistani national dress — shalwar trousers, kameez shirt and shervani, a Nehru-collared black long coat.

Accompanied by his cabinet colleagues and allied party leaders, he drove up to the outer precincts of the Supreme Court building from where he walked to Courtroom No 4 where the trial was held.

He appeared in a relaxed mood as he waved to dozens of sympathisers who had gathered outside the court.

Within the court, after the guilty verdict had been read out to him, he completed his custodial term within the space of a single four-word sentence uttered three times over; “A submission, my lord.”

The rising bench paid him no heed.

Moments later, he walked out a free man, greeted by women activists of his PPP party with loud slogans of triumph.

So in a way, the high drama that surrounded the early stages of this trial ended in a whimper.

But did this come as a surprise?

For those who have kept an eye on the overall political, economic and security situation of the country, it didn’t really.

Scandal subsided

Over the past couple of years, a perception has been growing that the country’s top judiciary has been selective in its judgements, dealing harshly with the PPP leadership but being soft on the military and some opposition politicians.

The PPP, which has traditionally been mistrusted by the country’s powerful security establishment, bided its first three years in office lying low, trying to survive.

It decided to strike back in December when the memo scandal broke out.

This revolved around a controversial memo which a former Pakistani ambassador to the US was accused of having initiated, allegedly at the behest of President Asif Zardari, to invite US intervention to prevent a possible military coup.

When the Supreme Court took up the case, questions were raised over the role the military had played in bringing that scandal to the fore.

Subsequently, Prime Minister Gilani, in unprecedented remarks in late December, told the parliament that while the civilian government had stood side by side with the military in difficult times, “they (the military) can’t be a state within the state“.

Given the PPP’s potential to ignite protests across large parts of the country, the army apparently backed down, allowing the memo scandal to subside.

The contempt of court case against Mr Gilani appears to have met the same fate.

It came at the height of the PPP’s tension with the military and the judiciary.

It was centred on an earlier judgment of the court that asked the government to write a letter to the Swiss government to re-open a corruption case against President Zardari which had been closed.

The prime minister was charged with contempt for failing to write that letter.

Prolonged trial

As the memo case went on the backburner, the contempt case also began to lose steam.

From the early expectations of a quick and harsh judgment, the case eased into a prolonged trial that has stretched over three months.

Many believe that through its order today, the court has tried to put an end to an increasingly difficult situation and has left the matter of Mr Gilani’s disqualification to others, whoever they might be – the parliament, the media, the political opposition.

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