Pakistan Ministers Are Called Before the Courts
By JANE PERLEZ and SALMAN MASOOD
Published: December 18, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A sweeping Supreme Court decision that reopened corruption cases against thousands of politicians, including President Asif Ali Zardari, reverberated through the government on Friday as important ministers were barred from leaving the country and ordered to appear before the courts in the coming weeks.
Among those immediately affected were the interior minister, Rehman Malik, who is considered particularly close to the United States, and the defense minister, Ahmad Mukhtar, raising concerns about how effectively the Zardari government, under pressure from a violent Islamic insurgency, could continue to function.
The two men were among 247 officials, also including Salman Faruqui, the chief of staff to Mr. Zardari, placed on what is known as an exit control list. It bars them from leaving Pakistan, a measure Pakistani authorities often use to ensure that those under criminal investigation do not abscond.
At least 52 politicians were called to appear before corruption courts, according to the National Accountability Bureau, the anticorruption unit that was ordered by the Supreme Court on Wednesday to act expeditiously in reopening the cases.
By the end of the day on Friday, Mr. Faruqui had won an interim bail order from the Sindh High Court, a measure that would prevent him from being arrested, legal experts said.
Mr. Malik had also been ordered to appear before the Sindh High Court, according to Pakistan’s Express News television channel. Attempts to reach a spokesman for Mr. Malik were unsuccessful.
President Zardari has immunity from prosecution under the Constitution. He remained defiant on Friday against calls from the main opposition party that he step down.
Moreover, he has no intention of asking cabinet ministers or colleagues facing corruption charges to quit, a media adviser, Farahnaz Ispahani, said Friday.
“The president is fighting fit,” Ms. Ispahani said. “The president was clear that our Pakistan Peoples Party ministers would not be asked to resign merely on the basis of accusation.”
A cabinet reshuffle in which “some people will be out and some will be moved” will be the main response to the revocation of the amnesty by the Supreme Court, Ms. Ispahani said.
But as Mr. Zardari and his party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, the biggest in Pakistan, battled to survive, a groundswell of media and public opinion seemed to exult in the Supreme Court decision.“We’ve never seen the mighty in this country held accountable,” said Babar Sattar, a Harvard-trained constitutional lawyer.
Now that the court, backed by public opinion, has come down hard on corruption in a way not seen before in Pakistan, the affected politicians are not sure how to react, Mr. Sattar said.
The confused response was evident when Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani dismissed the interior secretary, Qamar-uz Zaman Chaudhry, and three officials of the Federal Investigation Agency on Friday evening for barring Mr. Mukhtar, the defense minister, from traveling abroad on Thursday.
The incident was an embarrassment to the governing Pakistan Peoples Party and the defense minister, who was leaving for China on an official visit and called the move “shameful.”A statement released by the prime minister’s office stated that the officials had not verified whether the minister’s name was on the exit control list and that their actions had “brought a bad name to the country