For years, the government and the judiciary have been wrangling over it. Now that the government has agreed to finally draft it, what have they been scribbling in the notorious Swiss letter?
Details of the three drafts of the letter, that the government intends, though reluctantly, to send to Swiss authorities, have yet to be made public, but insiders have revealed some details.
In the first draft submitted before the Supreme Court on September 25, the letter sought withdrawal of former attorney general Malik Muhammad Qayyum’s letter of May 22, 2008, wherein Qayyum sought withdrawal of graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
There was no mention of revival of shelved cases, and mutual assistance by the government of Pakistan, in this draft though.
The court raised objections over the contents of the first draft and held a meeting with the law minister, Farooq H Naek, behind closed doors. The five-judge bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, granted the government 48 hours to redraft the contents of the letter, in line with para 178 of the Supreme Court judgment on the defunct National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).
The second draft of the letter, submitted on September 26, sought revival and restoration of mutual assistance but the government discussed the history of cases and said all cases were fabricated and politically motivated.
The draft also mentioned that honouring international customary laws regarding immunity from prosecution for a head of state are also obligatory for Swiss authorities.
The court, again, was not happy with these amendments and asked Naek during a closed-door meeting that these wordings were not suitable “for court’s dignity” and do not fulfill the requirements of the NRO verdict passed by a 17-judge bench of the apex court in 2009.
Naek was barred from writing a letter with “conclusive judgment” by the government, according to government’s legal experts.
This time, the law minister got a long adjournment for a “meaningful” consultation on the issue with the prime minister and other stakeholders.
The court, however, was not comfortable with the delaying tactics employed, and adjourned the hearing till October 5, albeit with a warning.
“Any further delay may impinge upon bona fide of the federal government, prompting us to proceed in the matter of contempt of court case against the prime minister forthwith,” read a short order on September 26th.
In the third draft of the letter, submitted on October 5, the government removed some of the “objectionable” content but also included its public claim, for the first time on court’s record, that the president enjoys immunity from prosecution under article 248 (2) of the Constitution.
The court raised objections over the letter again, but this time expressed some satisfaction as well, saying the two sides are inches away from a perfect solution which upholds the dignity of the courts.
The court was optimistic, saying the remaining issues will be resolved as well. The law minister, however, made it clear to the court that he will not make any commitment for further improvement in the draft.
Sources in the law ministry told The Express Tribune that no headway is expected on the government’s side because President Zardari has tasked Naek to not backtrack from the presidential immunity clause.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2012.
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