Pakistan supreme court bars ex-PM Sharif from elected office

The Supreme Court of Pakistan Feb. 25 upheld a lower court ruling that bars Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and current leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), from holding elected office based on a past criminal conviction for “hijacking.” Sharif was convicted of the offense for attempting to divert a plane carrying Army commander Pervez Musharraf during a 1999 coup against Sharif that ultimately succeeded.

The same decision also nullified the election of Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who had served as the Chief Minister of Punjab since his election last June. The removal of Shahbaz Sharif from office may be viewed as a political power-grab, as Punjab is the most populous and affluent region in Pakistan, and the PML-N holds a sizable plurality over Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in its provincial assembly.

Sharif said the Supreme Court’s ruling was retributive and that President Asif Ali Zardari offered him a favorable verdict in exchange for his support of Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar. The controversial ruling comes amid turmoil regarding the country’s judiciary, which has split the PML-N and PPP, which formerly were coalition partners. Sharif and the PML-N have urged the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, ousted after then-president Pervez Musharraf declared emergency rule in November 2007. Chaudhry, supported by many members of Pakistan’s bar, insists he is still chief justice under the Pakistani constitution. (Jurist, NYT, Feb. 25)

Meanwhile in Washington, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi met with his Afghan counterpart Rangeen Dadfar Spanta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss trilateral cooperation against terrorism. But Qureshi told reporters he also wanted to discuss ending controversial US drone attacks inside Pakistani territory. (WP, Feb. 27; Newsday, Feb. 26)

See our last post on Pakistan.

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