Gilani firm on Zardari’s immunity at top court
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani waves as he leaves the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan yesterday. AP photoPakistan’s embattled prime minister defended himself yesterday against contempt charges before the Supreme Court, refusing to back down in a case that would see him disqualified from office if convicted.
The court summoned Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to explain his refusal to ask Switzerland to reopen graft cases against the president before adjourning until Feb. 1, conceding the premier would not have to appear next time. The government refused to ask the Swiss authorities to reopen the long-standing cases on the grounds President Asif Ali Zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution as head of state.
Gilani spoke of his respect for the judiciary but did not apologize or deviate from his long-standing position. “I have come today to show my respect to the court,” Gilani told the seven judges. “It will not give a good message to proceed against a president who is elected by a two-thirds majority,” he said. “There is complete immunity for heads of state everywhere.”
But his lawyer, Aitzaz Ahsan, indicated Jan. 18 that the prime minister might reverse that stance. “There is no harm in writing a letter to the Swiss authorities,” he said. “I will bow to the court order and will also speak on immunity to satisfy the court that the president has complete immunity,” Ahsan told reporters yesterday.
Zardari and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to launder about $12 million in alleged bribes paid by companies seeking customs inspection contracts in Pakistan in the 1990s. A Swiss prosecutor has since said it would be “impossible” to reopen the case against Zardari since he benefits from immunity as a head of state.
Musharraf to delay return to Pakistan
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s former dictator Pervez Musharraf came under mounting pressure yesterday to delay his return from exile, after Islamabad warned he would be arrested if he lands in the crisis-ridden country.
Friends and close supporters met late Jan. 18 and strongly advised Musharraf to put off a homecoming currently scheduled for between Jan. 27 and 30 after more than three years of self-imposed exile in London and Dubai. On Jan. 18, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told the Upper House of Parliament that Musharraf would be arrested if he returns as planned.
Mohammad Amjad, senior vice president in Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League, told Agence France-Presse “no final decision had yet been taken.” Musharraf had promised to fly home between Jan. 27 and 30 to contest general elections now widely expected within months, as Pakistan’s civilian government sinks deeper into a major crisis.
SNUBBED BY PAKISTAN, US ENVOY GOES TO INDIA
WASHINGTON – Agence France-Press
A U.S. envoy on a mission to discuss post-war Afghanistan will head on a previously unscheduled trip to New Delhi after India’s rival Pakistan refused his visit, officials said Jan. 18. U.S. officials said Pakistan informed them that it did not want to receive special envoy Marc Grossman until Islamabad completes an ongoing review of relations with Washington, which have sunk to rock-bottom in recent months. The State Department said Grossman would head Jan. 20 to India, whose support for Afghanistan and President Hamid Karzai is deeply resented by many Pakistanis who accuse New Delhi of trying to use the issue against Islamabad. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the U.S. was not trying to send any message to Pakistan through Grossman’s trip to India and reiterated that he would have liked to visit. “We made clear that we would welcome a stop by Ambassador Grossman in Islamabad on this trip,” she told reporters. After New Delhi, Grossman heads to Afghanistan on Jan. 21 for talks with Karzai. He is also visiting Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on his nearly two-week trip.