WASHINGTON - The ruling PPP's muted response to the ouster by the Supreme Court "highlighted the cardinal principle of government under (President Asif Ali) Zardari: ensuring his political survival, even at the cost of sacrificing his most loyal lieutenants," a leading US newspaper reported Wednesday.
"Others have already fallen, mostly at the hands of the court," The New York Times noted in a dispatch from Islamabad as American newspapers here covered the new political crisis in Pakistan, with their main focus on the G-20 Summit in Mexico, Syria and domestic politics in this election year.
The Times correspondent, Declan Walsh, wrote, "In November, Mr. Zardari jettisoned his ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, after the powerful military pushed claims that, in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death in May 2011, Mr. Haqqani had secretly approached the Obama administration for help in averting a military coup. Mr. Haqqani insisted he did not write the letter seeking help, but under pressure from generals and judges, he resigned.
"More recently the Supreme Court forced Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Mr. Zardari’s political enforcer within the fractious governing coalition, to resign and surrender his British passport over rules that forbid officials to hold dual citizenship.
"Other political parties, however, have largely escaped censure from the court..."
The Times said Zardari may seek to head off elections as long as possible, "in part because his government is being battered by accusations of mismanagement over the country’s continuing electricity delivery failures. In Punjab, the country’s most populous province, mobs angered over chronic power failures rampaged through several cities for the third day running, clashing violently with the police and burning vehicles and offices. The daily blackouts — up to 20 hours long in places — have left many people miserable and jobless in the grueling summer heat."
Correspondent Alex Rodriguez of The Los Angeles Times, wrote, "Even with Gilani out, Zardari's party probably has the votes in parliament to pick a successor. But the turmoil also comes at a vulnerable moment for Zardari, as he braces for upcoming elections amid deep dissatisfaction with his government's performance on pressing issues such as economic stagnation and daily outages that rob major cities of power for 12 hours or more.
"The crisis is also likely to further complicate efforts to reopen NATO supply routes into Afghanistan that Islamabad shut down after U.S. airstrikes" killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. Gilani and Cabinet members such as Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar were involved in talks with the U.S. on reopening the routes.
"Up until now, Gilani's strategy has been to reject any assertion that the court has jurisdiction to disqualify him from office."
The Christian Science Monitor wrote, "In the world of Pakistani politics, the court order against Gilani could become an advantage to his and Zardari's party in elections that have to be called before early next year. It will likely portray the case against Gilani as the latest in a long line of unjust decisions by the courts and the army and use it to fire up the party's base ahead of elections. Party founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged by the court in 1979."
Correspondent Saeed Shah of the McClatchy Newspapers' group, reported, "(T)he show of power by the court – some described it as a “judicial coup” – could open the way for the powerful military to try to regain power. In the immediate term, the confrontation distracts Pakistan’s attention from negotiating a deal with the United States over access to supply routes for the U.S.-led coalition in neighbouring Afghanistan, as well as managing an escalating series of domestic crises including terrorism and a collapsing economy.
"... Gilani had served for four years, after democracy replaced Pakistan’s military dictatorship in 2008, but the period has been marked by a tussle among the executive, judiciary and military over the levers of power – leaving the business of governing the country in near-paralysis. While the legal dispute played out in Islamabad, the capital, riots have broken out in the eastern province of Punjab in protest of crippling electricity shortages that have made the sizzling summer heat even harder to bear.
"Pakistan has been ruled for more than half its history by the armed forces, and many believe the military leadership has actively used the courts to weaken the civilian government."
“Sadly, the democratic process may prove short-lived,” Asma Jahangir, a leading lawyer, wrote Tuesday in a Pakistani newspaper. “The (military) establishment has played its cards well. It has masterfully used the hands of civilian institutions to cut each other down to size.”
Correspondent Saeed Shah wrote, "The court added to the uncertainty by ruling that Gilani had actually stopped being prime minister back on April 26, when the court had found him guilty of contempt for refusing to pursue the corruption case against President Zardari. A conviction bars someone from being a member of Parliament and therefore serving as prime minister. The opposition claimed the ruling meant that all government decisions since April 26 were therefore invalid, including the passing of the annual budget.
"Under Pakistan’s constitution, the prime minister runs the government, while the president serves, in theory, as a mostly symbolic head of state. Gilani had repeatedly defied court orders to write to authorities in Switzerland to ask them to reopen old corruption cases against his boss, Zardari, who heads the Pakistan Peoples Party and controls the government as a result of his party position.