Pakistanis have developed a rare gift for turning picayune gaffes and faux pas into monumental Kampfs. Like the unsigned letter which the US general didn’t take at all seriously and tossed into the waste paper basket. Most citizens are now getting a bit tired of reading about the letter to the Swiss banks which nobody wants to write. In plain English, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan asked Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to write to the Swiss banks to reopen the corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. It’s as simple as that. All the PM has to do is to write the blooming letter and apologise to the court, and he can trot off to Miami for an extended weekend to watch the Cubans dancing the salsa. Or, he can, of course, resign. But dear Horatio…this is not India. Nobody resigns in Pakistan .
However, being a permanent life member of the dying breed of die hard loyalists, and fully aware of the fact that if convicted of contempt of court he could face prison, lose his parliamentary seat and receive a five-year ban of holding any public office, he has decided to behave like Mark Anthony. Swearing eternal allegiance to his mentor and saying things like he’d rather go to jail than draft the dreaded epistle which would almost certainly cook the goose of his patron, he has emerged as something of a folk hero among the 8,000 other beneficiaries of former president Musharraf’s NRO. In the process he has plunged himself, his party and the country into the corridor of uncertainty.
In his defence, he had gotten hold of the outstanding lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, to cough up a 200-page appeal. The thrust of the plea was that as head of state, the president enjoyed immunity under the constitution. Armed with citations from various cases which pertained to charges of contempt of court he hit on more than 50 legal and constitutional points, emphasising that the prime minister did not act against the Constitution by not writing a letter to the Swiss government. However, the chief justice had the last word when he dismissed Ahsan’s arguments by pointing out that the precedents that had been mentioned were of a civilian nature, whereas the case under reference was of a criminal nature, and that the court could go to any length to implement its verdict.
Conflicts between the judiciary and the executive are nothing new. Justice Stephen Breyer of the US Supreme Court once commented that at various moments in America’s history, decisions of the Supreme Court were contested, disobeyed or ignored by the public and even by the president and Congress. When Gilani’s lawyer stated that only parliament can remove Asif Zardari, he probably had in mind the United States where a president can be removed from office only through impeachment and conviction by Congress. The Supreme Court and lower federal courts do not hear impeachment cases. Closer to home was the case of the belligerent Mrs Indira Gandhi, who between 1966 and 1977 denounced the judges and some of their judgments. In 1977 the Janata government tried to restore the prestige of the courts, but in 1980 India’s iron lady was returned to power. The difference between the judges in the two countries is that while Justice PN Bhagwati of the Supreme Court wrote a groveling sycophantic letter to the Indian prime minister on her return to power, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has done otherwise. However, the time has now come to finish this unsavoury episode.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2012.
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