For Zardari, the charges lifted include questions about a $4 million country estate in England and $40 million in foreign bank accounts. His total assets amount to $1.5 billion, according to a government anticorruption body, a figure his spokesman denies. Zardari had served 11 years in jail on corruption charges but was never convicted, and in 2004 left Pakistan.
The biggest legal battle ahead, over whether Zardari can stay in office, could take months to resolve. As president, he enjoys immunity. But his opponents plan to argue that, with his corruption charges now restored, he was ineligible to run for office in the first place and must step down.
Outside the courts, meanwhile, a political fight could break out, depending largely on how Zardari responds.
In a conciliatory move last month, he promised to effectively become a figurehead, by fulfilling a promise to transfer hefty presidential powers – the right to dismiss the prime minister, dissolve Parliament, and pick the Army chief – back to the prime minister. But Zardari could raise the stakes by mobilizing supporters to take to the streets.
Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar says the government “will accept and honor the verdict,” but has yet to determine how to respond politically.
The uncertainty has raised concerns that the military will intervene in government, as it’s done throughout Pakistan’s 62-year history. But since taking over in 2007, Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has largely pulled the Army out of politics. With 30,000 soldiers battling the Taliban, Army officials may feel too busy to step in anyway. And like many Pakistanis, the military brass may not mind watching Zardari fall.