Political Situation In Pakistan

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan was plunged into fresh political turmoil Wednesday when President Asif Ali Zardari dismissed the provincial government in Punjab and imposed federal rule in the province after the Supreme Court upheld a decision barring the nation's opposition leader from holding elected office.
Protests in Pakistan

Sharif's supporters protested in Rawalpindi Wednesday.

The Supreme Court's decision upheld a lower court ruling barring Nawaz Sharif from elected office because of a prior conviction.

The move heightened political tension in the nation as the government seeks to quell an Islamist militancy that has stretched toward the capital. The court's decision is expected to put pressure on the nation's fragile democratic process.

Pakistan returned to elected civilian rule just a year ago after nine years of military rule. Mr. Sharif currently holds no elected office but is the leader of the opposition because he leads the party with the second-largest bloc in the national parliament.

The court also removed Mr. Sharif's brother, Shahbaz Sharif from his post as chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan's largest and most powerful province, upholding another earlier court decision that found irregularities in his election to the provincial parliament. A presidential spokesman said the federal rule would stand for two months.

Mr. Sharif, a former prime minister, accused Mr. Zardari of influencing the court ruling. "It is a political decision given on the directives of Mr. Zardari," he said at a news conference at his residence in Lahore. "It is a conspiracy to keep me out of politics." He called his supporters to resist the government action to impose federal rule in Punjab.

The government denied that it influenced the court decision. "It is purely a legal issue and the government has nothing to do with it, " said Khurshid Shah, a federal minister.

The decision against the two men doesn't change the balance of power in Pakistan's national parliament, where Mr. Zardari's Pakistan People's Party runs the government.

Mr. Sharif had declined to appear before the court saying he didn't recognize the judges because they were appointed by former President Pervez Musharraf under a national emergency rule in December 2007. Mr. Sharif is supporting a movement led by lawyers for the reinstatement of former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry who was dismissed by Mr. Musharraf's government.

Mr. Sharif's government was ousted in a military coup in 1999 and he was sentenced to life imprisonment by an antiterrorism court for ordering the hijacking of a passenger plane carrying Mr. Musharraf, who was the chief of army staff at that time. Mr. Sharif later was exiled to Saudi Arabia.

Analysts said the court decision would have far-reaching consequences for the country's fragile democratic process and for the war on terrorism.

I be back very soon (InshaAllah)

Raja Waqar Arif

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