The Pakistan People’s Party-led government and the Supreme Court on Saturday appeared headed for a showdown after an apex court bench suspended the appointment of two judges by President Asif Ali Zardari.
Going against the recommendations of the fiercely independent Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the President appointed Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khwaja Muhammad Sharif as a judge of the apex court.
Mr. Zardari also named Justice Saqib Nisar as the Acting Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court.
Within hours, Justice Nisar defied the President’s order and said he would not take oath as the Acting Chief Justice.
A special bench of the apex court took suo moto notice of the President’s orders and suspended them during an emergency hearing this evening.
As reports of an impending confrontation between the government and judiciary did the rounds, rumours swirled in Islamabad that Mr. Zardari could resort to extraordinary steps, including imposition of emergency, to assert his authority.
Reacting to rumours, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told reporters that emergency was not being imposed.
TV news channels quoted sources in the presidency as saying that all decisions would be made by the government in accordance with the law and the constitution.
Soon after the presidency issued the two notifications for the judicial appointments, Chief Justice Chaudhry, who was in Karachi, took suo moto notice of the matter and constituted a special bench to hear the matter on an urgent basis.
The three-judge special bench heard the case on Saturday evening and suspended the notifications issued by the President, saying they violated Article 177 of the Constitution, which states that all members of the superior judiciary will be appointed by the President after consulting the Chief Justice.
The special bench said the current Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court would continue to work in his current position. It then adjourned the matter till February 18.
However, presidential spokesman Babar said the Chief Justice was consulted before the appointments were announced.
Even before the special bench gave its verdict, Justice Saqib Nisar refused to take oath as the acting Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court.
"I will not take oath as acting Chief Justice of the High Court... I will do what Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry asks me to," Justice Nisar told BBC Urdu.
The President's orders conflicted with recommendations of the Chief Justice, who had wanted Justice Nisar be made a judge of the apex court.
The President's decision came after the apex court constituted a five-member bench to hear a case related to delays in the appointments of judges.