Impasse over Swiss letter not over yet
ISLAMABAD: The impasse between a Supreme Court bench and the government over the language of the draft of a letter to be sent to the Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari did not end on Friday.
But instead of initiating contempt proceedings the court had warned in case the letter was not finalised, the five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa gave another opportunity to the government by postponing the hearing to Wednesday to enable Law Minister Farooq H. Naek to consult Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf again.
“We are just inches away from the resolution of the longstanding issue of implementing the NRO verdict,” Justice Khosa acknowledged. But the government flatly refused to make any commitment to making further changes in the draft. The apparent change of heart became obvious after yet another closed door discussion between the law minister and counsel Waseem Sajjad and the judges in the chambers.
Although the court appeared to be reluctant, it granted chamber audience at the insistence of the law minister who reminded it that he was not a private party rather representing the federal government and that some sensitive matters were involved in the case.
Feverish activities were also the hallmark of the day when the law minister, along with Waseem Sajjad, was seen rushing to the attorney general’s office to inform the leadership about the outcome of the chamber discussion.
The only positive aspect of Friday’s proceedings was an acknowledgment by the bench after perusing the draft communication that its two paragraphs were in consonance with and spirit of paragraph 178 of the NRO judgment. But Justice Khosa found the last paragraph of the letter contrary to what had been written in the first two paragraphs.
The contents of the letter, however, are still the most guarded secret because neither the government gave any idea about what was in the draft nor did the judges mention its wording during the proceedings.
A source close to government quarters confided to Dawn that the fresh draft contained changes required by the court as it mentioned the revival of $60 million graft cases against the president in Swiss courts.
But the reason behind the firmness shown by the government on Friday was perceived to be the reluctance demonstrated by the judiciary because the letter clearly mentions Article 248 of the Constitution as well as the Geneva Conventions.
However, the source said it appeared that the bench was divided on the issue. The references underline the immunity enjoyed by the president from criminal litigations domestically as well as internationally.
A brief press talk by the law minister emphasising the constitutional protection the president enjoyed also indicates that the real bone of contention is the immunity issue.
The letter requests the attorney general of Geneva (Switzerland) to consider as withdrawn the May 22, 2008, communication by former attorney general Malik Qayyum to the Swiss authorities.
At the outset of the proceedings, the law minister requested the court to go through the contents of the letter which was prepared as per observations made by it at the last hearing that it would be in the interest of Pakistan that the system continued and the executive and the judiciary worked in unison in adjudicating issues because the country was facing many challenges.
“It is time that the court should rise above in the interest of the country and we expect that the court will also take care of the genuine concerns and sensitivity of the federal government. We earnestly desire that this issue must come to an end and believe that judgment should be left to the people of Pakistan,” Mr Naek said.
At this, the judges retired to their chambers for some time and returned to announce that the court was conscious of the fact that it had been a long journey before reaching this stage and it also understood that the efforts made were not wasted.
The law minister said there were still some reservations and he wanted to consult the prime minister again.
But Justice Khosa observed that the court genuinely believed that both were just inches away from a perfect solution — a solution which would uphold the dignity of the court and address the concerns of the government.
The law minister again requested for a chamber audience which the court granted after some reluctance but, at the same time, admitted that it would be dangerous if the sensitivities involved in the matter were discussed in open court. In its order the court appreciated that most of the issues had been sorted out in the draft but said some aspects still needed to be attended to by the government to make the communication represent the true spirit of the NRO judgment.
The order said the law minister had requested for a short adjournment till Oct 10 to consult the prime minister on the subject and to produce an improved draft, if any. “In the interest of justice and also in the interest of proper resolution of the longstanding issue, the hearing is adjourned to October 10 as requested by the law minister,” the order said.