ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Ruling-party leaders insisted yesterday that they supported the president and would not oust other top government officials after the Supreme Court struck down an amnesty shielding them from corruption charges.
The party dismissed talk of any confrontation with the judiciary, but defiant moves by party leaders since Wednesday's sweeping - and popularly hailed - court ruling have so deepened the political turmoil in this nuclear-armed U.S. ally that some analysts gave the government only months to survive in its current form.
The escalating tensions threaten to distract Pakistan's leadership just as Washington is ramping up pressure on Islamabad to widen its offensives against Islamist militants to include groups that threaten Western forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
The decision means that thousands of corruption and other cases against politicians, bureaucrats, and party workers dating to the 1990s have, or will soon be, reopened. Many of the accused claim the charges against them are politically motivated.
During a critical meeting of the party leadership last night, party officials told the media that they respected the courts and that accused members were prepared to face any charges.
But they also insisted that no cabinet minister affected by the loss of the amnesty would be asked to quit - even to burnish the party image - and they said they had full confidence in President Asif Ali Zardari, who is constitutionally immune from prosecution in the graft cases against him.
"Mere accusations don't mean a person is proven guilty, and, on such a basis, talk of resignations is not right," said Jahangir Badar, secretary-general of the Pakistan People's Party.
Aside from resisting calls for the ouster of cabinet ministers, the government has in recent days suspended officials who were carrying out court orders and elevated one party member named in a graft case to law minister. The moves came as anticorruption courts issued summonses to more than 100 suspects, while the Interior Ministry issued travel bans on about 250.
"It's not looking good for stability," said Cyril Almeida, an opinion writer for Dawn, a leading English-language newspaper. He ruled out a military coup, but he said the events had pitted "the political leadership that currently controls the executive against the judiciary."
Even Zardari's position is tenuous because his opponents say they will now challenge his eligibility to be president in the first place. Zardari has resisted opposition calls that he resign on moral grounds and has long insisted on his innocence.
Among the suspects summoned by anticorruption courts are Interior Minister Rehman Malik - a figure seen as close to the United States - and presidential secretary Salman Farooqi, court officials said. Malik and Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar were among the 250 barred from leaving the country after the Supreme Court's decision.