Pakistan plunges into a deeper political turmoil as the country's top court barred Premier Gilani from office, a move which many analysts believe is a setback for Pakistan’s nascent democracy.
In a controversial verdict on Tuesday, the Pakistani Supreme Court disqualified 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 Pakistani President Asif Ali 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.
The PPP disputed the Tuesday decision, saying that the prime minister could only be dismissed by parliament. Despite its reservations against the verdict, the PPP has accepted the court's ruling and it is currently looking for Gilani's substitute. Zardari has summoned National Assembly, parliament's lower house, on Friday to elect a new prime minister.
Judiciary asserts its power
At the heart of Tuesday's verdict is Supreme Court's Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who is popular in Pakistan for taking up high-profile cases involving politicians and military generals. The court's actions are a significant turnaround in the Pakistani domestic politics. For much of Pakistan's history, courts have been pliant to the army's demands and validated three military coups against civilian prime ministers.
Ayaz Amir, leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said the Supreme Court had done some remarkable things. At the same time the court is taking on the political elite, it has also shown it is not afraid to take action against the intelligence services.
"The day when the Prime Minister was indicted for contempt, the military's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) I was forced by the chief justice to bring forth the illegally detained people. These things had never happened in Pakistan; the intelligence agencies being held accountable," Amir told DW.
Lahore-based human rights activist Zaman Khan told DW that, despite the fact that the court's decision was controversial, the government must obey the ruling.
"Good or bad, it is the Supreme Court's decision, and all civilized countries respect courts' decisions. I think, Gilani should have stepped down right after his conviction in contempt on April 26, but he didn't. In Pakistan, the ruling elite lusts for power and wants to stick to it at any cost," said Khan.
The clash of institutions
But many people in Pakistan view the current predicament as a clash of institutions - these being predominantly the judiciary and the parliament.
Supporters of the PPP are of the view that the judiciary, backed by Pakistan's ubiquitous army and the ISI, are trying to undermine the supremacy of parliament and civilian democracy.
Emrys Schoemaker, a communication analyst and researcher at the London School of Economics, told DW that the consequences of the Tuesday verdict are "political."
"The main question is whether the timing of Gilani's removal was right? Should the courts act in the country's best interests and get involved in politics, or should they be neutral? It appears that the court is merely dealing with cases in its docket, yet clearly the consequences of its actions are highly political," Schoemaker said.
Harris Khalique, an Islamabad-based political analyst and human rights activist, believes certain groups are pulling the strings from behind to dislodge the civilian government.
"They (the rulers) are not being ousted for being corrupt and incompetent; they are being ousted because there is a tug of war between institutions about who holds more power and who actually calls the shots in Pakistan," Khalique told DW.
Observers are also of the view that the current turmoil in Pakistan's domestic politics is likely to affect Pakistan's relations with its neighbors and the West, in particular the United States. US-Pakistani ties have been at their nadir since a US air attack on a border post killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last year and there have been no signs that they will improve soon.
Experts say the US 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," said Khan.
Karachi-based activist Abdul Hai observes 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, who believed the court's ruling is a big setback for the civilian rule in Pakistan.
Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Richard Connor