In the presence of the top political leadership of the country, a two-page charge-sheet was read out on Monday by Justice Nasirul Mulk.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani listened.
The charge-sheet said the prime minister had violated Article 204 of the Constitution by not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities, as ordered by the court in its verdict nullifying the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).
“Have you heard and understood the charge?” the court asked.
“Yes,” the prime minister replied.
“Do you plead guilty?”
And so it begins.
“Do you have any defence to make?” the court asked. After consultation with his counsel, Aitzaz Ahsan, the prime minister said that he will submit his written reply at a later date.
With the prime minister pleading not guilty, Aitzaz asked the seven-member bench for the date to be as late as possible. He informed the court that he will be in London from February 18 to 21. Before then, on February 16 and 17, the lawyer is also busy, as on these dates his nomination papers for the upcoming Senate election will be scrutinised in Lahore.
On being told this, the court asked Aitzaz to give preference to the case, to which Aitzaz responded that he was already conscious that it’s one of the most important cases in the country’s history. He still asked the court to extend the date further, reiterating that the court had hastily convened.
“Aasi bhi kia jaldi hai, janab?” (What is the rush, sir?)
The court accepted his request and asked the attorney general, Maulvi Anwarul Haq, who is also a prosecutor in the case, to file a document of all witnesses and affidavits by February 16.
The prime minister was exempted from further hearings while the hearing was adjourned till February 22.
The court has set February 27 as the deadline for the prime minister to submit the relevant documents and evidence in his defence. The court will examine these on February 28. The attorney general has been advised to plead the case under Order 27, Rule 7.
Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khosa, who was also present in court, told The Express Tribune that the situation is not actually very alarming. Such a trial was also initiated – and subsequently dropped – against former premier Nawaz Sharif. In Gilani’s contempt trial proceedings, a repetition of this cannot be ruled out.
Asked whether the PM intends to implement the court’s order by writing a letter to the Swiss authorities in the future or not, Khosa said: “We are not a common law country and we have a proper constitution in place and everything will be done in accordance with the rules of business.”
Masood Kausar, Governor Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, also praised the PM for appearing before the court. Others believed it was only just the beginning.
While talking to the media outside the court, Qamar Zaman Kaira, the PPP’s information secretary, said: “It’s a sad day for Pakistan.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2012.