Pakistan's Supreme Court, Tuesday, ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in hearing of a corruption case on the rental power projects in Pakistan.
According to a private television channel in Pakistan, the apex court ordered the arrest of 16 persons, including the premier, and directed the authorities to present Prime Minister Ashraf in court within 24 hours.
“The chief justice ordered that all concerned, regardless of their rank, who have been booked in the case be arrested and if someone leaves the country, then chairman of NAB will be held responsible along with his investigating team,” said a Pakistani lawyer Aamir Abbas.
As a result of the sudden arrest orders, the Karachi Stock Exchange collapsed 559.74 points, minutes after the court's order.
The arrest orders comes after the showdown by cleric Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, who led a massive anti-government rally from Karachi to Pakistan's capital Islamabad to protest near the national parliament.
Last year in March, the apex court had directed the National Accountability Bureau to proceed against those who were in the post of minister for water and power from 2006 till the next general elections. On SC directive, NAB issued arrest warrants for 33 people allegedly involved in the corruption case, including Raja Pervez Ashraf.
In this corruption case, nine RPPs firms were accused of receiving more than Rs22 billion as a mobilisation advance from the government to commission the projects. However, most of them did not set up their plants and a few of them installed them, but with inordinate delay.
The combination of the unexpected arrest orders by court and the Qadri led anti-government protest stoked growing speculation that Pakistan's military is quietly supporting the anti-government agenda, the success of which might result in a delay in the country's general elections scheduled to be held this year.
Despite the political pressure and the arrest order for Prime Minister, Pakistan's President, Asif Ali Zardari, hopes to complete the first civilian government to reach its full term until general elections.
While the series of events may not necessarily be pre-planned or inter-linked, the arrest order for Pakistan's PM served as a positive news to Tahir-ul-Qadri's supporters. The cleric's supporters in the rowdy anti-government rally chanted "Long Live Supreme Court" minutes after the decision was out by Supreme court.
Interestingly, the arrest orders came right after Qadr's revolution speech in which he demanded Pakistan's leaders to step down from their positions and wanted an electoral reform.
Mr. Qadri offered his complete support for the Pakistan's army and the Supreme Court, declaring the two institutions as a vital part of his political mandate. “Now only two institutions are there — the judiciary and the armed forces,” he said.
When asked to speak about the court orders, Raja Pervez Ashraf commented that "This was totally unexpected,". While Pakistan's Interior Ministor Rehman Malik commented that despite the court orders, Raja Ashraf would continue to serve as PM until the general elections.
“I would say that Raja Pervez Ashraf is still prime minister and would continue to be so,” said Malik, while speaking to media persons outside Parliament House in Islamabad.
Fawad Chaudhry, one of Ashraf's advisers, called the court's decision "a soft coup" against democracy.
It is important to highlight that last year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ousted former primer minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a contempt case related to old corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari.
“So far we have not received anything from the Supreme Court in writing. The government, the law ministry and the prime minister have not received any order from the Supreme Court,” said Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.
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While the turn of events in Pakistan's politics has stoked a strong speculation that a possible link exists between the military and the Supreme court's decision, Justic Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhry has stressed that the court does not have anything to do with the military rule or with the anti-government protest in Islamabad.