ISLAMABAD: On the eve of facing contempt charges in the Supreme Court today, the prime minister gave a candid, forthright interview to Al-Jazeera.
On Sunday, some 18 hours ahead of the court proceedings, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani shed light on his possible plans. Judging by his comments, the embattled premier seems prepared to face the dire consequences and even to return home as a former prime minister.
Gilani’s message to the TV channel had two main strands: that President Asif Ali Zardari enjoys immunity under the Constitution; and that the PM cannot implement the court order asking the government to write a letter to the Swiss authorities seeking reopening of money laundering cases against the president.
When asked if he would step down if convicted, Gilani replied: “Certainly. If the SC convicts me, I would not remain a part of parliament too.”
For the PM, the cases against Zardari are all politically motivated – and somewhat misguided.
“He has got immunity. And he has not got immunity only in Pakistan, he has transnational immunity even all over the world,” he said.
Asked if he would rather resign for the sake of the president, Gilani said that, if he is convicted of contempt, he will automatically lose office, so there was no need for him to quit. “There’s no need to step down. If I’m convicted, then I’m not supposed to be a member of parliament.”
The premier is, however, confident in his legal team. “We have to think about the merits of this case. I appeared before the SC and my lawyer, one of the principal workers in the lawyers’ movement, is capable of handling the case. It would not happen as you have visualised,” he told Al Jazeera.
Gilani is sticking to the stance he has maintained throughout – that the letter cannot be written, but with the Supreme Court insisting it must be, indictment is inevitable.
This state of affairs differentiates him from his predecessors.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the first premier to face contempt proceedings, after he banned the Awami National Party (ANP) in 1974. The charge was dropped in 1976 due to the absence of proper evidence required for framing charges against Bhutto.
Years later, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif faced contempt charges in 1997 over the appointment controversy of SC judges. The premier was eventually exonerated after he submitted an apology.
Gilani is the third PM to face contempt of court charges, this time for not implementing the apex court order on the controversial amnesty deal sponsored by former military dictator Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).
The court nullified the ordinance in December 2009 and the judgment has not been implemented, in letter and spirit, to date.
The SC had conveyed its message loud and clear earlier this week when it rejected an intra-court appeal from Gilani and directed him to appear in the court so that it could frame charges against him.
Legal wizards are not on the same page whether presidential immunity, under article 45 of the Constitution, can quash Gilani’s conviction and sentence as it did in the case of Sharif.
In Al Jazeera interview, the PM also denied that the army, or anyone else other than the government, was in charge of the country. “We are following the Constitution of the country. According to the Constitution, the chief executive is the ultimate authority. Therefore, if you think that someone is running the country unconstitutionally, you are wrong in that assumption.”
“At the moment, I have good relations with the military,” the PM added.
Other subjects were discussed, including drone attacks and the Osama bin Laded raid, with the PM reiterating his earlier positions, insisting that Pakistan had total sovereignty. The PM also strongly denied any government links to the Taliban, and said that the Council of Islamic Ideology would decide on revisions to the blasphemy law.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2012.