Gilani’s brinkmanship

As expected, the government has decided to disregard the Supreme Court’s order to approach the Swiss authorities to revive the money laundering cases against President Zardari.

Instead of complying with the court’s order to write to the Swiss authorities, the Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq, on Friday, sought more time, and in the meanwhile, Prime Minister Gilani let the world know that the government is ready to pay any price for its defiance.

A day after, President Zardari had warned his party’s central executive that “they (judges of the Supreme Court) are working on a get-Zardari agenda,” but promised to fight back. “Get ready for anything…any call can be given at any time,” he told the party caucus. Then, on Friday, Prime Minister Gilani made an impassioned appeal to the Parliament to stand by him to defend what he repeatedly called Supremacy of Parliament. President Zardari, he said, enjoys immunity under the Constitution from criminal proceedings, here and abroad, and it’s only the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament), of which the President is also a part, that can take back that immunity. Such a confrontation has been in the making all these nine months or so since the apex court declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) void ab initio. But now that it seems to be coming to a head, it is so much stunning. Even before the question of presidential immunity is adjudicated upon by the apex court, Prime Minister Gilani appears to have run afoul of the contempt law by refusing to write to the Swiss authorities, an offence, if taken up, can render him ineligible to continue in the high office that he occupies.

That Prime Minister Gilani had not realised the gravity of the offence he was going to commit by refusing to comply with the court’s order is indeed intriguing. He is known for his pragmatism – he joined politics as a minister of President General Ziaul Haq’s cabinet, then came over to the PPP and was made speaker of the National Assembly and now unanimously elected prime minister. He maintains fairly cordial relations with Nawaz Sharif and others in the opposition.

His narrative in the Senate on Friday that he never shrank from complying with court orders was indeed quite impressive, and his decision to offload some of President Zardari’s very close aides who had benefited from the NRO makes a lot of sense. But his staunch stand of upholding the immunity of President Zardari from court proceedings tends to be seen as undermining the logic in his otherwise convincing case. It appears, in the end, it was somebody else (read law minister Babar Awan) whose point of view prevailed. Prime Minister Gilani should have complied with the court’s order, and at the same time approached the court for an interpretation of the Article 248, under which the presidential immunity is being claimed. An argument that by writing to the Swiss authorities the government would compromise President Zardari’s right to immunity, probably held back the government’s legal advisors from acting in accordance with the Supreme Court’s order.

As to how dangerous is the evolving scenario, one may recall Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s observation: ‘being a wise person, Prime Minister Gilani should know the repercussions of his defiance of the court’s order’. The government had nine months to comply with the Supreme Court’s order but as the court exercised judicial restraint, the government acted imprudently and projected the judges as political rivals in a game of power politics, not hesitating to flash the so-called Sindh card and other threats.

Going by the media reports, one gets the impression that the government is preparing for a yet more dangerous confrontation – by seeking to undo the “executive order”, under which the judges were reinstated. To pass the proposed move by a simple majority in the Parliament, the numerical strength of the ruling coalition is being ensured, and in this connection Prime Minister Gilani has asked the ANP chief Asfandyar Wali to return from Dubai. Maulana Fazlur Rehman has already met the prime minister and assured him of his support in this respect. But the same cannot be said about the MQM and Fata members, who are also the ruling coalition partners.

But in the process, the reality gets confirmed that the government’s myriad antics to defy the apex court’s verdicts are motivated by one single consideration and that is to save President Zardari. It’s a kind of do or die mission taken up by Prime Minister Gilani. Will he succeed, we shall wait and see, keeping our fingers crossed in the meantime. – brecorder