In an apparent display of restraint and accommodation, the Supreme Court on Monday allowed Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf time until September 18 to write a letter to Swiss authorities pertaining to a money-laundering case in which President Asif Ali Zardari is also implicated.
The prime minister appeared before a five-member bench of the court in response to a July 12 show-cause notice on the issue. In a similar case the court had disqualified his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gillani for defying and ridiculing its orders.
The presiding judge, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, dispelled the impression that the Supreme Court wanted the government to initiate criminal proceedings against President Zardari in Switzerland who has claimed constitutional immunity.
Without naming the president, Justice Khosa observed: “We have neither asked you to seek reopening of a case against anybody nor do we want to oust prime ministers.”
Khosa said the government has simply to withdraw an earlier letter written in 2008 through which the Pakistan government had pulled out of its claim in the Swiss case allegedly involving $60 million of graft money in which Zardari’s name had also figured.
The impugned letter referred to the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) promulgated by military ruler General Pervez Musharraf pardoning dozens of corruption cases. It was annulled by the Supreme Court in December 2009.
Raja sought 4-6 weeks to consult legal advisers. The prime minister said he wanted to resolve the issue and would never like to be remembered in history as the one who defied court orders.
Raja evoked a laughter in the court when he pointed out that while his predecessor took four-and-a-half years in making his mind over the issue, he has been in office only for two months.
He said the case has gripped the whole nation and created an atmosphere of political and economic uncertainty.
Many expected the judges to announce on Monday that they would charge Ashraf with contempt for also refusing to write the letter.
But they gave the prime minister until September 18 to decide whether he would follow the court’s order after he argued he needed more time to find a way to resolve the crisis — an argument the government has made in the past when faced with similar deadlines.
“The government and I have full respect for the courts, and I have a strong desire to resolve this issue amicably so the prestige and respect of the judiciary is not only maintained, but is increased,” Ashraf said.
Stringent security measures were taken on the occasion and the entire Constitution Avenue, on which the Supreme Court is located, was sealed off restricting entry while two helicopters kept overing over the area.