ISLAMABAD: The hawks within the PPP seem to be ruling the roost for now.
The latest word out of the PPP camp is that the government will tell the Supreme Court it can’t write to the Swiss authorities for the reopening of cases against President Asif Zardari since the president enjoys constitutional immunity. This ‘final’ decision, say PPP politicians, was taken after through debate within the party high command. “If the government writes a letter asking the Swiss authorities to reopen cases against President Zardari, the Supreme Court may interpret that letter as the government’s revocation of presidential immunity and may start proceedings against the president in Pakistan,” explains one insider.
The subject itself has been the source of much debate and even fracturing within the party. At a high-level brainstorming session last week, two points of view were put before the president and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. Senior party leader Raza Rabbani is said to have argued that there was no harm in writing the letter as the Swiss attorney-general himself had said that his government believed Zardari enjoyed immunity. (Under international law, a sitting head of a state cannot be prosecuted in a foreign country.)
Since the Swiss will not take action, Rabbani is said to have reasoned, the government should just write the letter to appease the Supreme Court. However, the view argued by the law minister has found more takers, including the president and the prime minister. Awan held that the government’s stance that the president enjoys immunity under the Constitution may be compromised by the writing of the letter. Fears are, the Supreme Court will interpret it as revocation of the immunity by the government and may start proceedings against Zardari in Pakistan.
“Although the Swiss authorities say they will not reopen cases against President Zardari, they may change their stance after receiving the letter from the government of Pakistan if they interpret it as revocation of presidential immunity by Pakistan,” confides the insider. That said, the party’s top guns have decided to soft-pedal and not unnecessarily provoke the court. The law minister has apparently been told by the president to remain “calm and respectful” during the May 25 hearing, when he tells the court why the government is yet to write to Swiss officials. “The judiciary is being very harsh on our leadership but the PPP will only use legal and political means to fight back,” complains a senior PPP leader.
“Some hawks had advocated taking the Supreme Court head-on but the president and the premier did not agree. In fact, the prime minister is insistent the PPP shouldn’t repeat the mistake Nawaz Sharif made by getting PML-N activists to storm the Supreme Court building during his second government.” Consequently, lawyers from the Peoples Lawyers Forum (PLF) have been barred from attending the hearings regarding the NRO verdict and the challenges to the 18th amendment. “Some of these activists may raise slogans inside the Supreme Court and that will backfire on the government visa- vis the judiciary, the political parties and the media,” worries the leader.
The new strategy is to ignore the critics. “We didn’t do anything to ‘punish’ the media group targeting our leadership; we let the people decide if we were being treated fairly and the people are now getting bored of that campaign,” says the leader. “Let the people now decide how we’re being treated by the judiciary. The PPP has a history of being unfairly treated by the courts. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was judicially murdered; Benazir Bhutto was hounded out of the country by the courts. If the worst comes to pass and our government is toppled by the judiciary, we will approach the court of the people.” Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar is more circumspect in his choice of words.
“We hope that the court will decide all cases remaining in the ambit of the Constitution and the law. We respect the judiciary; we will present our case before the court and hope for justice,” he says.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 24th, 2010.