Supreme Court accepts plea for more time in Swiss case
Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf survived his first date in court on Monday with the Supreme Court accepting his plea for more time and adjourning the long-drawn out case over asking Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari till September 18.
This was Mr. Ashraf’s first appearance in court as Premier and he sought to portray his acceptance of the summons as an example of his government’s respect for the judiciary. However, Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, presiding over the five-member bench, pointed out that respect would be shown by implementing its order, not just by appearing in Court.
The Prime Minister presented himself before the Court in response to summons issued on August 8 after the bench decided to initiate contempt proceedings against him for repeatedly refusing to comply with its order to write the letter.
Mr. Ashraf sought four-to-six weeks to formulate his response and got three weeks instead. Initially, the case was adjourned till September 12 but when the Premier said he was scheduled to visit China at that time, the matter was postponed till September 18.
He was told by Mr. Justice Khosa that he did not have to personally write the letter — the task could be delegated to someone in his government. Given that this letter has resulted in a prolonged stand-off between the executive and the judiciary, the bench said this case is not that big an issue but had been blown out of proportions, adding that further delay in writing the letter would only complicate matters.
The Court also asked the Prime Minister to instruct members in his government and governors to stop making critical statements against the judiciary. No names were cited by the bench. Later, the Premier asked his Cabinet colleagues and others in his party to speak with utmost respect about the judiciary.
Mr. Ashraf is the second Prime Minister to be summoned by the Court this year; his predecessor Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani was also hauled up — first in January — for contempt on the same issue. Held in contempt of court, he was finally disqualified from membership of the National Assembly in June, resulting in losing his premiership.
Within days of Mr. Ashraf assuming office on June 22, the Court began asking him whether he intended to write the letter. With the government maintaining that the letter cannot be written as Mr. Zardari enjoys presidential immunity while in office, contempt proceedings were initiated against Mr. Raja earlier this month.
Unlike in the case of Mr. Gilani where the government decided early in the day to abide by the Court’s summons, the decision that Mr. Raja would appear was taken literally at the eleventh hour — on Sunday night at a meeting of all parties in the ruling coalition.