– Pakistan’s chief justice keeps up pressure on beleaguered Zardari
By Simon Denyer
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan’s chief justice kept the pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday, demanding he respond to charges of undermining national security, in a Supreme Court inquiry into the “Memogate” controversy.
Zardari returned to Pakistan early Monday from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he had been receiving medical treatment for a heart condition.
His sudden departure nearly two weeks ago had sparked rumors he was fleeing the country, being ousted by the nation’s powerful military or trying to wait out the inquiry. However, his return has neither silenced the rumor mill nor ended the sense of mounting crisis surrounding his presidency.
“He will continue to face pressure from the Supreme Court and the military,” said Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad. “The suspense will continue for quite some time.”
Zardari’s immediate troubles revolve around a secret, unsigned memo that surfaced last month, which solicited Washington’s help to rein in the Pakistani military and prevent a possible coup after the U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden in May.
The memo was sent by Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who alleged that he was following the instructions of the Pakistani ambassador to Washington to convey a message from Zardari.
The government has denied having anything to do with the memo, but the ambassador, Husain Haqqani, has resigned and is trying to clear his name.
The opposition alleged that treason had been committed, and the Supreme Court took on the inquiry, collecting depositions from government and military officials last week.
During the opening hearing Monday, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, a longtime foe of Zardari’s, was clearly unhappy that the president had failed to respond to a request that he submit a sworn statement about the affair, saying it could be taken as acceptance of the charges.
“This is what happens in civil cases,” Chaudhry said. “When you don’t reply, then charges are deemed as accepted by you.”
Although the president can be impeached only by a two-thirds majority of parliament on the grounds of violating the constitution or gross misconduct, a Supreme Court verdict of wrongdoing in the Memogate affair would put significant pressure on Zardari.
Last week, the military appeared to be at loggerheads with the government, arguing in its depositions that evidence showed the memo did lead back to Haqqani and demanding a full investigation.
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