Court orders Pakistan prime minister arrested
Things have been pretty bad in Pakistan over the last several years. They are about to get worse.
Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the arrest of the prime minister on Tuesday in connection with an alleged corruption scandal, ratcheting up pressure on a government locked in a showdown with a cleric who has a history of ties to the army.
The combination of the arrest order and a mass street protest in the capital Islamabad led by Muslim cleric Muhammad Tahirul Qadri raised fears among politicians that the military was working with the judiciary to force out a civilian leader.
"There is no doubt that Qadri's march and the Supreme Court's verdict were masterminded by the military establishment of Pakistan," Fawad Chaudhry, an aide to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, told Reuters.
"The military can intervene at this moment as the Supreme Court has opened a way for it."
Thousands of followers of Qadri camped near the federal parliament cheered as television channels broadcast news of the Supreme Court's order to arrest Ashraf on charges of corruption, who took over in June after judges disqualified his predecessor.
Pakistan's powerful army has a long history of coups and intervening in politics. These days it seems to have little appetite for a coup but many believe it still tries to exert behind-the-scenes influence on politics.
The ruling coalition led by the Pakistan Peoples' Party has weathered a series of crises with the judiciary and military over the last few years and hopes its parliamentary majority will help it survive until elections are called within a few months.
President Asif Ali Zardari hopes to lead the first civilian government that will complete its full term and hold elections. Any move to oust the prime minister would not automatically trigger the collapse of his coalition since lawmakers can simply elect another prime minister.
Zardari himself has been threatened with arrest over an old corruption case. The president has a multi-million dollar villa in France and is known in Pakistan as "Mr. Ten Percent," referring to the amount he allegedly receives in kickbacks on government contracts. You can't do business in Pakistan unless you pay the right people - a fact of life that appears impossible to change.