Debate in PPP on ‘middle way out’ of standoff
ISLAMABAD, Aug 14: As the date for next hearing in the NRO implementation case draws near, the ruling party is feverishly trying to find a “middle way out” of the current executive-judiciary standoff as suggested by the Supreme Court recently.
The court will take up the case on Aug 27. And the Pakistan People’s Party is discussing its available options.
While some leaders of the party are of the opinion that the government should stick to its stance of not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, others suggest that the only way out is to write the letter.
A source told Dawn that there was an opinion that the letter should be written to the Swiss authorities for reopening the cases, but at the same time it should state that under the Pakistani constitution, the President, being head of the state, enjoyed complete immunity from all kinds of litigation and, therefore, could not be dragged to courts.
It is being argued that if the letter or a draft of it is submitted to the court beforehand in order to win its endorsement, it may only offer a “middle way out” which had been mentioned in the court’s July 25 orders.
On that day, a five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had asked Attorney General Irfan Qadir to find a way out of the impasse between the government and the judiciary. The bench even indicated that if letter was written, the court might endorse the immunity enjoyed by the president.
The PPP leaders who are in favour of writing the letter believe that this may be the best way out of the political mess. They say it may not be easy for the party to elect a third prime minister because of the heavy price its allies may extract in the run-up to the election. There is no doubt that a final decision will be taken by President Zardari who may not bother about the party sentiment as was seen in the past. But if those he counts on can convince him that this is the best legal option available, it may open a door.
But those party leaders who are opposing the move ask why this option was not considered when former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had been appearing before the apex court on contempt charges. Had the same choice been used, Mr Gilani would have become the first chief executive to complete his five-year constitutional term, they argue.
But whatever the sentiment, all agree that the confrontation has taken heavy toll on the country in all aspects and, therefore, it must end now. It’s time that either the government should show some flexibility in the shape of writing the letter or some workable solution should be extended by the judiciary, they believe.
“Finding a middle way out is not something difficult,” Advocate Tariq Mehmood said, adding that the attorney general could present before the five-judge bench an application with a specimen of the proposed letter.
The letter, according to him, may request the Swiss authorities to consider reopening the cases against the president, but at the same time clarifies that the president enjoyed immunity under the local laws.
Mr Mehmood suggested that the letter should also highlight that a money-laundering case for granting a pre-shipment inspection award to SGS on the basis of which cases had been lodged in Switzerland still awaited prosecution before a local court because of Article 248 of the Constitution which provided protection to the president from all kinds of litigation.
Unless that case is decided, he said, it would be difficult to prove the allegations of money-laundering before the Swiss courts.
The proposed letter should also highlight that under international laws, heads of states also enjoyed sovereign immunity, he said, adding that to do this the executive would have to bend backwards by showing flexibility.
It will be better if the government writes the letter to end the controversy, Advocate Salman Akram Raja says.
“Whatever is being done is all with mutual understanding since it is in the air that the deadline for reopening corruption cases in Swiss courts is ending on Aug 22. That is why the government is showing flexibility,” said a disgusted lawyer who has close links with PPP circles.