The appearance of a sitting prime minister before a court is not a usual event. Yet accompanied by his carefully picked counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, and a bevy of leaders from the PPP and other parties, Mr Gilani appeared in the contempt case with dignity, signalling that despite the allegations to the contrary, his government indeed respected the judiciary and was eager to work within the constitutional framework. An unruffled Mr Gilani told the court that he had not written the letter to Swiss authorities, as the president enjoyed immunity under both the law of the land and international law. This of course is a point many experts agree on.
While many had expected — or even hoped for — fireworks in the court and a showdown of some kind, this did not happen. Aitzaz Ahsan, who took the line he has taken before, that the government should write to Swiss authorities but that the president enjoyed immunity, reiterated this stance. His emphasis that this provision came with the post of Head of State and was in no way intended to protect Mr Asif Ali Zardari alone, should help clear an environment filled with conjecture that the government’s reluctance to write the letter is based on a desire to protect a single individual. The point raised by the court that the president needs to seek immunity, which is not available to him automatically, is one that Mr Gilani and Mr Ahsan will need to examine over the coming days. For now, the case has been adjourned till February 1, after the court granted a request from the prime minister’s counsel to study the matter. We will need to wait then till next month to see how matters proceed. But for now, one could say that things may become relatively calm. The law is holding sway, and this is most important of all, given the overall need of our country.
Certainly, General Pervez Musharraf’s NRO was a bad law. But what is most important right now is that the Constitution be respected, equilibrium restored between institutions and the tensions that have built be dissipated so that governance can proceed smoothly.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2012.