At the end of every tunnel, there seems to be another tunnel as far as Pakistan is concerned. The removal of Yousaf Raza Gilani as prime minister by the Supreme Court on Tuesday has brought about a direct conflict between the judiciary and the executive. The executive will naturally want to uphold the supremacy of Parliament and stick to the principle that it alone has the right to remove the PM.
Mr Gilani has been held in contempt of court for refusing to ask the Swiss authorities to reopen cases of corruption against President Asif Ali Zardari. After years of being somewhat supine under successive dictators, the Pakistani judiciary has become increasingly assertive in recent times. The only problem now is that the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, himself is under a cloud over the fact that his son is accused of being party to murky business deals.
According to Geo news channel, the Pakistan People’s Party has decided to nominate Makhdoom Shahabuddin for the post. But if he or any other incumbent sticks to the same stand as Mr Gilani in refusing to ask for the reopening of cases against the president, he too will stand accused of contempt. This will bring about the sort of impasse that Pakistan with all its problems can do without.
Another vexing issue is whether all the decisions taken by Mr Gilani since April 26, when he was first found guilty by the court, still stand. One particularly thorny issue is the budget which if annulled could plunge Pakistan further into chaos. The logjam in decision-making will affect the country not just internally but also externally, namely in its dealings with India and the US. A way out could be for the president to call for early elections, but this could create further glitches since it is the president whose conduct is under scrutiny.
Mr Gilani can, of course, appeal against the decision which would give Mr Zardari a little more time. But all these are tactical manoeuvres as the main issue is that the civilian government is likely to suffer from a severe policy paralysis until fresh elections are held. The Pakistan army is spectacularly silent, clearly it is waiting and watching in the wings the mess which the government finds itself in.
For India, this is really bad news: we cannot expect the normalisation process, if it can be called that, to stay on track. The US will now have to deal with the army much more. But that will be a difficult task given that relations between the army and the US have been tense in recent months. This institutional logjam will give a fillip to the jihadi elements posing ever greater danger to Pakistan.
No one could be more eager to step into this vacuum as the jihadi elements which hold sway over several parts of the country. A political impasse is a worrying setback for not just Pakistan but the whole fragile South Asian region.