Pakistan’s activist judiciary is once again at war with the country’s executive branch. Last week, the Supreme Court indicted Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on contempt charges for failing to comply with a 2009 court order requiring him to petition the Swiss government to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, who leads Gilani’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). By month’s end, Gilani could be convicted and removed from office. Nonetheless, in a best-case and entirely plausible scenario, the PPP could still continue to govern till midyear and again win a plurality in National Assembly elections in the fall.
The dispute between the Supreme Court and the PPP centers on the October 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) imposed by then-President Pervez Musharraf. The NRO provided amnesty for hundreds of politicians and bureaucrats and was an essential part of a U.S.- and U.K.-backed power-sharing deal between Musharraf and Zardari’s wife, the late Benazir Bhutto.
The major beneficiaries of the NRO were Bhutto and Zardari, who are alleged to have laundered more than $1 billion in bribes and ill-gotten wealth out of Pakistan. The deal notably excluded Nawaz Sharif, who heads Pakistan’s second-largest party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Sharif, a longtime rival of Bhutto, was ousted as prime minister by Musharraf in a 1999 coup.