Pakistani Prime Minister Ashraf risks losing his job as the country's top court summons him on contempt charges. Experts say the ruling has paved the way for early parliamentary elections in Pakistan.
It is the second time in two months that a Pakistani prime minister faces contempt allegations in a corruption case involving the country's president Asif Ali Zardari.
Ashraf's hearing has been scheduled for August 27. If convicted of contempt, he could be removed from his post as prime minister like his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani.
"We hereby issue a notice to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf… to show cause why he may not be proceeded against for committing contempt," the court said on Wednesday. "He shall appear in person on the next date of hearing."
In a controversial verdict in June, the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding office, following a contempt conviction two months ago.
In April, the court found Gilani guilty in a contempt case after he refused to write a letter to the Swiss government to re-open graft cases against President Zardari, which the Swiss authorities had shelved in 2008. The incumbent Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government says the cases are "'politically motivated" and cannot be re-opened while Zardari remains head of state and enjoys presidential immunity.
But many people in Pakistan view the current predicament as a clash of institutions - between the judiciary and parliament.
Supporters of the PPP believe that the judiciary is backed by Pakistan's ubiquitous army and the ISI, which are trying to undermine the supremacy of parliament and civilian democracy.
Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer and former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, told DW that the Pakistani courts were "working against democracy."
"There is a perception about the courts that their decisions are politically-motivated," said Jahangir.
On the other hand, Pakistan's Supreme Court Bar Association's former president Qazi Anwar said the country's highest court was left with no option but to summon the PM.
"The PPP government has been disobeying court's orders, so it should not expect that the Supreme Court would give a different judgment than the one it gave against former PM Gilani (in June)," Qazi told DW.
Observers say the court's ruling has paved the way for early parliamentary elections in Pakistan, which are originally due in early 2013.
They think that the current turmoil in Pakistani domestic politics is likely to affect Islamabad's relations with its neighbors and the West, particularly the United States.
Experts say Washington is closely observing the nuclear-armed Pakistan's deepening political crisis.
"Pakistan's history is marred with these kinds of political crises. The international community does not trust us. The regional situation is very complex. The recent political developments in Pakistan cannot be looked at in isolation," Lahore-based human rights activist Zaman Khan told DW.
Karachi-based activist Abdul Hai notes that a liberal party like the PPP, which is believed to be more pro-Washington than others, is not acceptable to the country's military, which is believed to be more supportive of right-wing groups and Pakistan's more conservative political parties.
"A liberal democratic setup does not suit the military. It wants to keep its power on economy as well as foreign policy. It wants to keep its grip on domestic affairs as well as important regional and international matters such as the re-opening of NATO supplies to Afghanistan," said Hai.
Author: Shakoor Rahim/ Shamil Shams
Editor: Michael Knigge