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Deepening crisis in Pakistan

The Supreme Court’s order to arrest 16 people allegedly involved in the rental power project scam including the prime minister came as a complete surprise to all and sundry. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf often referred to as “Raja Rental” by his opponents for allegedly accepting kickbacks for rental power projects when he was water and power minister. His elevation to the top position was extensively criticized because of his alleged involvement in the scam.

Definitely, the top court’s judgment has given another big blow to the beleaguered government in the country, which is already beset by many challenges at multiple fronts. While the government has so far successfully confronted many challenges relating to governance, the greatest obstacles it has found in its path coming from the proactive judiciary. The PPP-led government had to replace the then Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani over the Swiss letter case and its ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani over the “memogate” case. And now it seems that its second chief executive is also on his way out.

In my opinion the timing of this ruling is questionable, as it has come at a time when Tahirul Qadri, a leading religious scholar, is in the middle of a protest march in Islamabad calling for the removal of the government. It makes many to believe that there is some tacit understanding between the judiciary and Qadri and therefore the top court strategically timed the ruling to coincide with the march.

Contrary to popular perception that the order against the prime minister implies criminality, Ashraf is still the head of the regime, and will carry on to be so even if he is taken into custody. The right thing for the ruling coalition to do is to remain calm and initiate dialogue with its allies and opposition parties to get their consensus on the right next step. — Shaukat Naeem Ghumman, Riyadh