As the extraordinary soap opera that is Pakistan’s politics continues, we have a new moment of high drama. In a unique situation, a sitting prime minister has been indicted by the Supreme Court in the contempt of court case against him.
The case, of course, stems from the failure of the government to write a letter to Swiss authorities requesting a reopening of cases, following the striking down of General Pervez Musharraf controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by the apex court. The arguments of Mr Gilani’s counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, that he was not an entirely free actor in this matter and needed to follow the advice of the Law Ministry and Human Rights Division was given short shrift by the nine-member bench, which had asked why the PM had failed to follow the advice of the courts in the first place.
This decision, of course, brings the NRO affair to a head. The prime minister has now been asked to appear before the court on February 13 for the framing of charges. This could be another moment of drama. But the relatively long time period set suggests that the court believes the government may be able to put up a case and that, for now, not all is settled. The new summary presented by Aitzaz, stating that no cases exist in Switzerland against the prime minister or the president following the NRO also raises some issues, while the counsel has also mentioned the possibility of filing an intra-court appeal.
What is most important at this juncture is to keep things simple; to do the ‘right’ thing, show restraint and follow the law. The law of our land is quite clearly written out in the Constitution — which sets out in clear terms the role of institutions. These roles need to be adhered to if we are to avoid anarchy. The period of 10 days set by the court should also allow the government some time to think, reflect on all that has happened and accept that the letter to the Swiss authorities must, indeed, be written if we are to see order and the continued functioning of a democracy which must move on despite the bumps it encounters along the way. That all said, one can’t help but wonder why the superior courts never held any military dictator in contempt of the Constitution.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2012.