Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on charges that he embezzled government funds during his time as Water and Power Minister from 2008 to 2011.
The court handed down its order as populist preacher, Tahir-ul Qadri led his “million man march” through the streets of Islamabad to demand electoral reforms ahead of the general elections in May.
The overlap between the two developments will almost certainly strengthen suspicions that the army and judiciary are working in tandem with Qadri to destabilize the democratic process and delay the elections.
Some of these suspicions come from the nature of the demands Qadri is seeking. Qadri is calling on the government to step down and for a caretaker government that is acceptable to the military, judiciary, and political to be installed. Pakistan has never had a democratically elected civilian government finish a full term.
Qadri did nothing to quell rumors that he is colluding with the military and judiciary. During a speech to supporters in Islamabad on Tuesday, the preacher said, "I give the president and prime minister until this morning to dissolve parliament and quit power."
He then urged his supporters to move their demonstration to outside the Parliamentary building, where they have pledged to remain until Qadri’s demands are met, according to the New York Times.
The New York Times also quoted Qadri as saying, “There is no Parliament. There is a group of looters, thieves, and dacoits…”
He told his supporters the country was left with “only two institutions… the judiciary and the armed forces.”
Some suspect that the court returned the favor by issuing the order against PM Ashraf. According to this logic, the Supreme Court and its strong-willed Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, called for the Ashraf's arrest in order to encourage the anti-government sentiment Qadri is playing to with his march.
The Supreme Court previously called for the arrest of Ashraf himself in 2011 over the same charges cited in Tuesday's order. The 2011 order had not been acted upon as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) continued its investigation into Ashraf and the alleged kickback scheme the Water and Power Ministry was engaged in. NAB's refusal to arrest Ashraf led the Supreme Court to reprimand its chairman in April of last year.
Not surprisingly, in light of this history, the PPP has said there is “no doubt” the military and judiciary are colluding against it. On Tuesday Fawad Chaudhry, an aide to the embattled PM, told Reuters that the country's powerful military and Supreme Court were working together to topple the government.
But Shamila N. Choudhary in Foreign Policy magazine does not for see any army interference in the present political scenario.
“Political engineering by the Army and other branches of the military could exacerbate considerable domestic frustrations about the military leadership's failure to address Pakistan's growing terrorism problem. Furthermore, key foreign partners like the United States would be hard pressed to look the other way if Army chooses to meddle,” she wrote on Monday before the court handed down its order.
Political observers rule out the immediate arrest of the incumbent PM but some predict the government will cave to pressure and announce election dates and a caretaker government within days.