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Supreme Court Struggles in Pakistan

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Pakistan:  A five judge bench of the Supreme Court,  headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, directed Prime Minister Ashraf to write to the Swiss authorities without any further consultations on the matter with legal experts or within the government. The purpose of the communication is to restart the Swiss investigation of criminal charges against Pakistani President Zardari that should have disqualified him from ever becoming president.


The bench said it expected the prime minister to write to the Swiss authorities and furnish a report about its compliance with the court's order at the next hearing on 25 July.  

The supreme court earlier directed Prime Minister Ashraf to inform it by Thursday, 12 July, whether he would contact the Swiss authorities about the graft cases. If the Premier failed to do so, the court promised to take appropriate action under the Constitution against him, the bench warned.  

There is no update as to the government's action in response to the Court's order.

Comment: The Supreme Court's power struggle to establish the autonomy of Pakistani courts is not finished. Ashraf now confronts the same threats that brought down his predecessor Gilani. Ashraf could be forced to resign if he does not pursue the criminal investigation of Zardari, whom every Pakistani knows is corrupt.

Most Pakistani judges are civil servants of the Ministry of Justice, an agency of the executive branch. The Chief Justice is working to ensure the political neutrality and independence of the judiciary from the other branches of government.

As a result he has not backed down from citing prime ministers and presidents for contempt of the Supreme Court for not complying with the rule of law in criminal investigations. The facts are clear that Zardari was disqualified from the start to ever serve in any public office because of his prior graft convictions and ongoing criminal investigations in Switzerland. The suspension of his criminal past by Musharraf was ultra vires and prima facie unconstitutional. That has already been decided by the Supreme Court.  Ipso facto, under Pakistani law, Zardari must resign.


The Ashraf government also might fall. The implications for the United States are that agreements made by Ashraf might prove to have no legal significance.

Iran: For the record. Last weekend an Iranian television station conducted a live, televised poll of viewers about sanctions and the Iranian nuclear program. The commentary about the poll was that it appeared slanted in favor of registering popular support of the nuclear program in defiance of western sanctions.

The Iranian state TV station abruptly terminated the telecast when more than 60% of those polled stated they would prefer to abandon the nuclear program if that would end the sanctions.

Comment: The economic sanctions imposed on Iran, beginning on 1 July, are without precedent. Any evaluation of their effects prior to that date is premature. The aborted poll shows that economic warfare of this order works, but in indirect ways over time.

Syria: Special comment: The small number of officials who have defected from the inner circle does not constitute a trend, but they do indicate that Sunnis in the inner circle of the Alawite government judge that safety lies in leaving. Their departure is a weak indicator of internal erosion.

The more important development is that Bashar al Asad allegedly told Kofi Annan the name of a possible transitional head of government. Annan is the sole source of this significant exchange.


If Annan is to be believed, Bashar al Asad is willing to transfer power to a successor. He implied as much when he said earlier this month that he hoped that a succession would be accomplished through elections.

What Bashar did not tell Kofi is that the Alawites as a minority do not seem prepared to share power with the Sunnis. The search for a suitable successor to Bashar al Asad does not imply that the current regime is prepared to leave. It just means that the ruling cabal is willing to consider a new leader.

In the analysis of internal instability, the center weakens in a predictable pattern, as it tries to find a stable line that it can hold. The pattern observed in the collapse of five states in eastern Europe is that the first activity to be sacrificed is the practices of government that worked in previous times of crisis.

Syria abandoned the practices of peacetime when it decided to use force against the opposition, instead of diplomacy. It tried diplomacy but that failed. Often the government has no control of the early processes of dissolution.

Next to be sacrificed are the programs. In Syria, Asad's long term programs for political reform rapidly became irrelevant. The Asad government's program of inclusion and electoral reform had a brief period of appeal in 2011 to secular, moderate protestors who started the opposition.


Once the opposition was taken over by hardline jihadists, however, the government's programs stood no chance of easing tension and reducing violence.

In the examples from the collapse and evolution of Warsaw Pact states in 1989, the leaders were the next to be discarded. Change of leadership is a palliative to buy time and gauge the strength of the opposition. It does not signify an agreement to share power with the opposition. It also does not mean that revolution is imminent.

Thus, in Syria, Bashar al Asad appears weary of the stress and appears willing to step aside under some conditions. That does not mean the Alawites and their supporters are willing to surrender power, but they are willing to make concessions. They appear to be probing the opposition as to what concessions might induce them to enter talks or at least fight less.

Once the center starts making leadership concessions, it cannot hold for long. That is the lesson from the collapse of the states in eastern Europe. No communist government in eastern Europe survived more than 18 months after its strong man leader resigned.

Syria is not yet at that state, but if Bashar al Asad agrees to transfer power to a transitional leader, regardless of the conditions, that means the end game is near, within 18 months.

End of NightWatch ###

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