Monday was a day of conciliatory gestures with the Supreme Court allowing Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf some elbow room to navigate a way out of the Swiss letter writing controversy and the government promising to preserve the superior judiciary’s sanctity and respect.
At least temporarily, PM Ashraf has escaped the fate of his deposed predecessor Yousaf Raza Gilani. On Monday, Ashraf was given a lifeline of 22 more days to ensure that the court ruling on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was implemented through the opening of graft cases against the president.
Although he wore a black sherwani similar to former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s attire on April 26 at the time of his unseating from parliament, Ashraf’s demeanour was not the same as that of his predecessor. Instead, his appearance mirrored the almost seismic shift in the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) stance. The supreme judiciary was assured that the letter, if written, would request the reopening of outstanding graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and pledged that the sanctity and respect of the court would be preserved at all costs.
Subsequently, the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court – headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa – gave Prime Minister Ashraf until September 18 to appear before the court and come good on his assurances.
Assisted by several members of the cabinet, the law minister, deputy prime minister and senior party leaders at the Supreme Court premises, Premier Ashraf admitted to the mounting pressure of the Supreme Court and said that he now wanted to resolve the issue in a way that the dignity of the court could be preserved.
“I want to become role model. It is an honour for me to appear before the court today,” said Ashraf while insisting that he did not want to besmirch his name and figure in an ugly chapter of the country’s history.
“Being a political worker and a law abiding citizen, I want to ensure that the judiciary is respected. It is also the requirement of my office that respect of the judiciary be preserved.”
Former premier Gilani was tried, convicted and disqualified in the same case when he failed to ensure the implementation of court orders of writing a letter, as mentioned in paragraph 178 of the NRO judgment of the Supreme Court.
During Monday’s hearing, Justice Khosa appreciated the prime minister’s appearance before the court and told him: “The case of your predecessor is before you and we only want to see the implementation of our judgment, since real respect for the court is ensured by the implementation of its judgments.”
“Give us a positive commitment today, otherwise the law will take its course,” he told Ashraf.
The bench explained the court orders again and said that it only wanted the federal government to revoke former attorney general Malik Qayyum’s correspondence with the Swiss authorities after the NRO was declared illegal.
“It is up to you to give a new topic for discussion to the nation by resolving this issue,” Justice Khosa told him. “We don’t want to see you again and again in the court in this case and we are also not interested in unseating public representatives”.
In response, Premier Ashraf told the Supreme Court that he required at least four to six weeks to consult his legal team and allies to resolve the issue. “You gave Gilani four and half years to implement the ruling, and I have been a prime minister for just 60 days,” he said.
However, Justice Khosa retorted that the government had little choice in the matter because ultimately court rulings “must be implemented”.
Initially, the court wanted PM Ashraf to follow through on its order within two weeks but when the premier informed the bench of his impending tour of China the hearing was adjourned until Sept 18.
Justice Khosa replied that according to Article 90 of the Constitution, the premier could exercise executive authority and authorise someone else to implement the orders of writing the letter, be it the law minister or the attorney general. However, the premier said: “I am only a political worker and not a lawyer. I need to understand the case in order to resolve it.” He also requested the court to withdraw the show-cause notice issued against him in the case.
At the same time, the prime minister said that he wanted to resolve the case, not prolong it.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2012.