WASHINGTON - American newspapers carried dispatches on Sunday speculating about Pakistan's internal situation in case the apex court indicts Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on contempt charges.

"For Pakistani politicians, getting tossed into prison - whether for shameless plunder and graft or trumped-up charges brought by vindictive foes - is an occupational hazard," The Washington Post said. "Now, some observers predict that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is headed back behind bars," Post correspondent Richard Leiby wrote in a dispatch from Islamabad, citing the denial by the Supreme Court of Gilani's attempt to block his prosecution and ordering him to appear before it on Monday to be indicted on contempt charges.

The New York Times said the court decision had escalated a tense standoff between the judiciary and the governing Pakistan People’s Party.

Gilani has asserted that the constitution grants President Zardari immunity, but the court insists rule of law would be subverted if the prime minister were allowed to flout its orders.

Noting that Gilani's statement that will go to jail if the court orders him to, the Washington Post said, "That prospect has raised fears that Pakistan’s fragile democracy could well collapse at a time when the nuclear-armed, strategically vital country is already wracked by an Islamist insurgency, severe energy shortages and economic crisis."

It quoted Senator Safdar Abbasi, a member of PPP, as saying, "Frankly, we are going toward anarchy very, very soon.” The contempt battle has dominated political discourse for too long, he added, while leaders ignore the pressing problems of their constituents. “The govt should end this crisis,” Abbasi said. “It’s like playing with a loaded gun.”

Post Correspondent Leiby wrote, "Because Gilani and Zardari were never particularly close, pundits are still puzzling out the prime minister’s motivations for risking his job for Zardari, who has dismal popularity ratings and a long rap sheet of kickback, shakedown and other corruption allegations.”

"Some see the 59-year-old prime minister finally shedding his unassuming personality and coming into his own. He has shown backbone, he has shown grit,” Ayaz Amir, an opposition member of parliament and columnist, was quoted as saying in the dispatch. "Besides staring down the court," the dispatch said, "Gilani recently lashed out at the country’s powerful military and intelligence establishment. During an episode known here as Memogate, he bristled at the military’s efforts to control the investigation of a mysterious missive that sought U.S. help in averting a coup d’etat after the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

"Gilani asserted in a December speech that there was no place for a 'state within a state' that claimed national security and foreign policy authority that should belong to the civilian leadership.

 Although he would later temper his criticism, the prime minister said then that control of the military resides in the executive branch.

The speech struck many as remarkable in its defiance, given the military’s penchant for dethroning elected governments, the Post added. On this, Ayaz Amir was quoted as saying, “Very few civilians have stood up to the army and lived to tell the tale, so to speak.”

The Post said, "Having survived this far into his five-year term in coup-prone Pakistan, Gilani may not care if he has to leave office. “He might be thinking, ‘I have already made history — the Supreme Court can do what it wants,’ ” columnist Nusrat Javeed said.

"Another theory holds that Gilani wants to go out as a selfless political martyr who showed his unflagging party fealty to the very end, the Post said. "Such sacrifice would leave a dynastic legacy for his children, who also are involved in politics.

"Some PPP officials insist that there is no replacement for Gilani in the wings, but say the party will stand by his decision if he is continues to defy the court and is forced to resign.

"Then there’s another option, according to party insiders: Zardari could pardon Gilani immediately after he’s convicted," the Post added.