Govt on Confrontational Path

Govt on Confrontational Path

Supreme Court of Pakistan

  • Experts view president’s statement as contempt of court
  • Justice (r) Wajih says refusal to implement SC verdict reflective of govt’s intention of confronting judiciary
  • SM Zafar says govt must review its decision
  • PML-N says Zardari trying to use BB’s grave as shield

ISLAMABAD – The government is seemingly ready for a showdown with the judiciary. With January 10 deadline set by the Supreme Court to implement the decision on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) ending tomorrow (Tuesday), the defiant ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)’s resolve not to seek reopening of cases pending in Geneva is most likely to finally end up in a confrontation between the government and the judiciary.

President Asif Ali Zardari, as the co-chairman of the PPP in an interview, has recently said the party had decided not to write a letter to Swiss authorities. Upset by the government’s dilly-dallying in implementing its orders, a five-member Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, had set January 10 as a cutoff date for implementing its decision on the NRO with a warning to the government that in case of non-compliance, the court would take action.

As the president has made a public statement that the PPP had decided not to write a letter to the Swiss authorities, the constitutional experts opined that his statement amounted to contempt of court which was not covered by the constitutional provision giving immunity to him. Seen in this context also, the NRO case is set to bring the PPP and the judiciary head on. Commenting on the president’s statement, Justice (r) Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui and Justice (r) Wajihuddin Ahmed said, by saying that the PPP had decided not to write a letter to the Swiss authorities, the president had committed contempt of court. They said the president was not supposed to write a letter as the chief executive (the prime minister) was answerable to the court but his remarks of defiance were tantamount to contempt of court.

In the interview with a private TV channel, President Zardari said the PPP would not conduct a trial of the grave of Benazir Bhutto. “It is a point of principle that the PPP will not try the grave of Benazir Bhutto, come what may. This is not my decision. This is a decision of the party… this is not about me, it is about us,” the president had said taking a political position on the NRO case. “It is not because of Article 248, but I am saying that I do not want to be written in history and my prime minister does not want to get it written in history. Twelve to 15 months are left in my presidency and after that any government can come and write the letter. Why should my government write it?” he had said. Talking to Pakistan Today, Justice (r) Wajihuddin Ahmed said President Zardari’s refusal to implement the Supreme Court’s verdict was reflective of the government’s intention of confronting the judiciary. “President Zardari has committed a contempt of court. A contempt of court case is not covered under Article 248 of the constitution which gives immunity to the president,” he said. Asked to comment on options available with the Supreme Courtin case of non-compliance of its orders by the government, he said, “In my opinion, the Supreme Court will stick to its go-slow policy. The court will exercise maximum restraint though it can issue a contempt of court notice to the prime minister. I think attorney general will be asked by the apex court to write a letter to the Swiss authorities but consequently he could be sacked (before or after writing the letter) by President Zardari.”

According to him, the Supreme Court wanted to avoid a clash between the institutions therefore it would not summon Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for not complying with its orders. “Under Article 190, the Supreme Court can call the army in aid but the apex court will not exercise this power as it will prove counter-productive,” he said, adding that the PPP government wanted “shahadat” to hide its failures and the SC was mindful of the PPP’s political designs. Justice (r) Siddique said President Zardari’s no to implementation of the Supreme Court order amounted to contempt of court though he had not been directed by the SC to write a letter. “The Ministry of Law will submit a reply in the apex court on January 10 and if they say that the prime minister directed them not to write a letter to the Swiss authorities, the court can start contempt proceedings against the prime minister,” he said.

Senator SM Zafar said it was a wrong decision by the government to not comply with the Supreme Court’s orders. “The PPP government must review its decision as it can ultimately trigger a clash between the institutions. The prime minister is responsible to get the apex court’s orders implemented but I cannot comment on what will be the Supreme Court’s reaction if the government fails to implement its orders,” Zafar said. Commenting on President Zardari’s interview, Athar Minullah said, “I totally disagree with the argument of President Zardari that it is the trial of Benazir Bhutto. No case against her is being or can be reopened… rather it is the matter of reopening of cases against President Zardari. If the government thinks the president enjoys immunity, it should claim it before the court.” Minullah said he was unable to predict about the court’s reaction “but under the law, contempt proceedings could be launched against those who refused to implement the Supreme Court’s verdict”.

Another legal expert, Babar Sattar said President Zardari had reiterated his party’s stance. “If the Supreme Court orders are not implemented by the government, contempt proceedings could be launched but I cannot predict whether the Supreme Court will take this course or not. Eventually the case will hit the prime minister as being the chief executive of the country he is responsible to get the orders of the apex court implemented,” Sattar said, adding that the extrajudicial concerns might push the court to avoid confrontation with the executive. PML-N Information Secretary Senator Mushahidullah said President Asif Zardari was trying to use Benazir’s grave as a shield to save himself. The Supreme Court in November last year had rejected the federal government’s review petition, saying that the documents presented by the government’s counsel failed to make a case. – Pakistantoday