In a move perceived as providing the judiciary and executive some breathing space in the case that has put them on collision course, the federal government on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it would withdraw the 2007 vintage letter to the Swiss authorities asking for closure of graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
This undertaking was given by Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf when he appeared before the apex court for the second time since he assumed office on June 22. He told the court that the government would withdraw the letter written by then Attorney General Malik Qayum following the promulgation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) – an amnesty law introduced by the Musharraf regime in 2007.
The Court has now given the government time till September 25 to present a draft of the letter that will be written to the Swiss authorities seeking revocation of Mr. Qayum’s letter. Also, the court has exempted the premier from the next hearing in the NRO implementation case as the task of writing the letter has now been entrusted to the federal law minister.
Though there was no clarity on how the government’s decision would affect Mr. Zardari, early indications are that he will not be troubled much as there have been reports in the past of Swiss law mandating a certain time frame for reopening of cases which expires sometime this month.
Since the court annulled the NRO in 2009, the issue of writing the letter to the Swiss authorities has been hanging fire with the federal government refusing to write it on the premise that Mr. Zardari enjoyed presidential immunity. The matter also resulted in the ouster of former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani who was held in contempt of court and disqualified from membership of the National Assembly for five years for refusing to write the letter.
Mr. Ashraf succeeded him anticipating a similar fate but the last couple of months have seen both sides pull back just a wee bit to give the other some scope for recalibrating their positions. Mr. Ashraf last appeared in court as premier on August 27 in response to the decision to initiate contempt proceedings against him. However, the Court accepted his plea for more time to formulate his response.
Lawyers maintained that Mr. Ashraf's non-combative demeanour as opposed to the position taken by Mr. Gilani made it easier for the Court to take a slightly lenient attitude towards him. Even if contempt proceedings are initiated against him if the Government further delays writing the letter, the dominant view is that Mr. Ashraf may not go his predecessor's way as he has never spoken out against the Court in public and the judiciary itself may not be inclined to upset the apple cart once again; that, too, in the last six months of the Pakistan Peoples Party-led regime.