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Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is said to have offered to quit "if Parliament wants", as the civilian government's battle with the military and judiciary came to a head on Monday. The offer to quit is said to have been made at a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari and coalition partners hours after Pakistan's Supreme Court issued a contempt of court notice to Mr Gilani for not implementing its orders and asked him to personally appear in court on Thursday next, January 19. It also comes a short while before Pakistan's Parliament votes on pro-democracy resolution moved by the government.
The country's highest court is hearing a critical case on the issue of re-opening of graft charges against President Asif Ali Zardari, and it might have the last word on the survival of the embattled civilian government, which has also been in a public confrontation with the country's powerful military in recent days.
Locked in combat with both the military and the judiciary, PM Gilani has positioned today's vote on a pro-democracy resolution not as a trust vote for his government, but as a "democracy versus dictatorship" vote. Sources say that the President and Prime Minister may keep out of that vote as the government seeks to underscore that it is looking to protect not the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) but the institution of democracy. If the government wins this vote, as it is expected to do, Mr Gilani will carry a moral advantage with him when he appears in court on Thursday.
Opposition leaders like Imran Khan have said they are firmly against the Zardari government, but also firmly against allowing a military coup.
In grey, rainy Islamabad today, however, it is not a military coup but a constitutional coup that is being talked about now and, analysts say, events this week could lead up to the ouster of the Zardari-Gilani government through the judiciary or, at least, to early elections. The opposition would like early elections; Imran Khan, who has seen enormous crowds at rallies of his Tehreek e Insaaf party, tweeted today, "In the history of Pakistan, this is the first free judiciary. the PPP govt is manipulating it only to hide its own theft and corruption. Only a puppet leader can inflict harm that Zardari's government has inflicted on Pakistani People."
Even Mr Gilani said yesterday, "We never said that I will be the Prime minister for 5 years. I never said that. However, I said that Parliament will complete its term and people have elected parliament for five years."
Today, he faced the fury of a seven-member Supreme Court bench, which was appalled on being informed by Attorney General Anwar-ul-Haq that he had no instructions from the government, despite a court deadline that it must make clear its plans by Monday on re-opening of corruption cases against President Zardari.
The corruption cases against the President were closed under the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which was promulgated by the then Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf in 2007. It grants amnesty to senior politicians. In 2009, the Supreme Court had ordered that this amnesty should end. Last week, the court warned Prime Minister Gilani that he could be disqualified and that action could also be taken against President Zardari if the government kept defying its orders on the issue. In a scathing attack, it had said that Mr Gilani "may not be an honest person on account of his not being honest to the oath of his office" and had then set the government the deadline of today to explain its plans.
The government has so far refused to blink on this matter, as it has in its stand-off with the military, brought on by what is being called the memogate scandal. Today, American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who was expected to testify before a judicial commission, did not do so, delaying his trip home and seeking time till January 25 to testify. Mr Ijaz's lawyers say he is being threatened. He has applied for a visa in Switzerland.
Mr Ijaz claims to have carried a secret memo to Washington from Mr Zardari's representatives, asking for help to avert a military coup, soon after the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The militray says it believes the memo is authentic. The government denies that memo.
Last week, matters came to a head with Mr Gilani and the military exchanging strong words in public, amid fears of yet another military coup in Pakistan. The military warned that Prime Minister comments could pose "grievous consequences for the country" after the latter told the Chinese media that the chiefs of the army and main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had acted "an unconstitutional and illegal" manner while making submissions to the Supreme Court on the scandal.
As the military huddled, there were fears of a military coup, but those fears ebbed by the end of the week as there were attempts to ensure that Pakistan came back from the brink. Both President Zardari and Mr Gilani met Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani over the weekend.
With the Army Chief by his side, Mr Gilani described the armed forces as a "pillar of nation's resilience and strength" and lauded their services in the defence of the country. But on Sunday he refused to take back what he had said about the Army and ISI on their deposition in the memogate matter, asserting he was responsible only to the Pakistan Parliament.
"I am answerable to Parliament. And if somebody has any complaint, I will not answer any individual. I am answerable to Parliament and whenever Parliament asks, I will put my views before it," Mr Gilani said.