The PM confronting ‘difficult decisions’

Talking to Lahore journalists recently, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani offered the assurance that the government would do all that is necessary to avoid a feared collision between the executive and the judiciary. Said he, “we will strengthen all institutions and continue with the politics of reconciliation.”

Answering a question about the fate of some NRO-affected ministers, he said that the law ministry, NAB and the Establishment Division are verifying the list of NRO beneficiaries, and that he would take the decision in accordance with the law, after receiving an “authentic and verified” list of beneficiaries of the now defunct law. “I will take difficult decisions, if these are in the larger interest of the nation”, asserted the prime minister.

These are encouraging words. Unfortunately, however, the Prime Minister does not seem to exercise the final authority on major issues, including the present one. He and his ministers are pulling in different directions. It may be recalled that a few days ago, he had said in a Senate meeting that all NRO beneficiaries holding government positions should resign voluntarily.

Afterwards, addressing senior journalists in Islamabad, he had mentioned the most powerful but controversial member of his cabinet, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, by name to call for his resignation. Malik later told journalists he was neither a beneficiary of the NRO, nor he had any intention of resigning.

Another influential member of the cabinet, Agriculture Minister Nazar Mohammad Gondal told BR in an interview published earlier this week, “There has been tremendous pressure on the government from certain quarters to remove NRO beneficiaries from public offices, but the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and Sheikh Rasheed, who have no political standing, are in the forefront of those clamouring for their removal.”

Confusing and contradictory as these assertions are, they are typical of the obfuscation tactics various ministers have been using from time to time to resist doing the right thing. Even more sensitive from the government standpoint is the issue of writing, as directed by the apex court, a letter to the Swiss authorities for the reopening of the Swiss money laundering case against the President.

Although prominent legal experts have been arguing that doing so will not have any adverse consequences, the government has been adamantly resisting the court order, leading to the resignation earlier this year of Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan who accused the law minister of hindering implementation of the SC verdict; then Federal Law Secretary former Justice Aqil Mirza left his job for the same reason though he cited poor health as ground for his leaving.

The Prime Minister told Lahore journalists a decision on the issue will be taken after the announcement of the court’s judgement on the NRO review petition. That is a fair stance. But considering the two ministers’ stand on the resignation question, another round of confrontation between the judiciary and the executive may yet surface.

We can only hope good sense will prevail and that the Prime Minister will get the support from his party leadership to resolve the situation in a spirit of reconciliation. After all, no individual is bigger than the country and the people-chosen system of governance. All sides must play by the rules, fulfilling their respective responsibilities to strengthen and advance the system.