ISLAMABAD: The hurdle was widely anticipated by the premier’s counsel, but was hurled at him nonetheless.
When defence counsel Aitzaz Ahsan attempted to cross-examine Defence and Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi on Wednesday, the seven-member bench hearing the prime minister’s contempt case said he could not – because she had been summoned as a defence witness, not a court witness.
Sethi, who has earlier served as the principal secretary to the prime minister, appeared as a witness in the case to present two summaries before the court.
The summaries stated that the then-law minister Babar Awan and the then-law secretary Masud Chishti had informed the premier that cases filed against President Asif Ali Zardari in Swiss courts were withdrawn and that there was no point in writing a letter to the Swiss authorities.
Aitzaz maintained that the summaries have been presented to prove that the prime minister had acted upon the rules of business.
The prime minister did not comply with the court order on National Reconciliation Ordinance case on the basis of these two summaries from May 21 and September 23, 2010.
When Sethi presented the summaries to the court, Justice Nasirul Mulk said they should have been submitted earlier to the Supreme Court Registrar.
The attorney general, however, objected to Sethi’s verification of the summaries.
“Nargis can only testify her own signature. In this hearing, she is attesting to other people’s signatures [in the summaries],” Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq said.
“Being a prosecution in the case, I have some reservations over the method with which [Aitzaz] is trying to carry the case,” the attorney-general added.
When Aitzaz attempted to question Sethi, Justice Ijaz Chaudhry raised an objection, saying he could not cross-examine his own witness.
Justice Asif Khosa said the court “did not understand the purpose” behind Aitzaz asking Sethi questions.
“Do you want to give (Prime Minister) Gilani a character certificate?” asked Justice Khosa.
“Yes … my main motive is to tell the court what character the accused [Gilani] has,” Aitzaz replied.
Sethi informed the court that she had worked with a lot of people, but considered Gilani to be a very ‘mild-natured’ person. She said that Gilani’s engagements included some that come under rules of business and some that don’t.
Sethi also pointed out incidents highlighting the premier’s regard for the court and its verdicts.
The premier had ordered a probe into the forced eviction of then-sacked judge Justice Khalilur Rahman Ramday from his residence, and ordered that his belongings are returned, Sethi said.
She also cited the case of promotion of 54 federal secretaries which was reverted by the premier after a follow-up.
Justice Nasirul Mulk asked Aitzaz to inform the bench about the premier’s conduct in the NRO case.
“I will satisfy you in this regard on Thursday (today),” Aitzaz said.
The court adjourned the hearing till Thursday, saying most of Wednesday’s proceedings were “wasted with irrelevant questions by Aitzaz.”
Sethi will be cross-examined by the court today.
Meanwhile, Aitzaz, speaking to the media outside the Supreme Court, said Sethi is the most suitable witness in this case.
“Nargis has worked with the prime minister, so she can provide adequate proof of his character.”
Copies of Sethi’s statements will be provided to all respondents and if there are any objections, they will be presented before the judges on Thursday, he added.
Aitzaz said he felt he was not allowed to cross-examine the witness properly on Wednesday.
“I want to prove to the court that the prime minister is not in contempt,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2012.