Pakistan's top court initiated contempt proceedings Monday against the prime minister for failing to carry out the court's order to open a corruption probe into the president, ramping up the pressure on the beleaguered civilian government.
The Supreme Court ruling open up the possibility that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani could be prosecuted and dismissed at the hands of the judges. That could happen as soon as Thursday, when the court ordered Gilani to appear before the bench.
The judges have ordered the government to open a corruption probe into President Asif Ali Zardari dating back to the 1990s. The government has refused, saying Zardari has immunity. Its supporters say the court is pursuing a vendetta against the country's civilian leadership.
The court order is the latest development in an ongoing political crisis in Pakistan that pits the civilian government against the army, which has three times seized power in a coup. Many observers say the spike in tensions between those two can't be separated from the maneuvering of the Supreme Court, which has sanctioned past coups.
The fault line in the country is the same one that has plagued Pakistan since its creation in 1947: an army that can't stomach taking orders from elected politicians, and which has three times seized power in coups. The government has given the generals control over foreign and security policy, but the civilian leadership and the top brass have never seen eye-to-eye since Zardari and Gilani took office in 2008.
Confrontation between the army and the government broke out last week over an unsigned memo delivered to Washington last year offering the U.S. a raft of favorable security policies in exchange for its help in thwarting a supposed army coup.
The Supreme Court formed a commission to investigate the affair. Gilani criticized the army for cooperating with the probe, and has said the standoff is nothing less than a choice between "democracy and dictatorship." Gilani's comments followed a warning from the generals -- who were infuriated by the memo -- of possible "grievous consequences" ahead.