Thursday, October 11, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Oct 12, 2012

End of the endless? The three-year seemingly endless saga of the letter to be written to the Swiss judicial authorities appears finally to have come to an ‘end’. Federal Law Minister Farooq Naek’s fourth, ‘improved’ draft of the letter finally won the approval of the Supreme Court bench hearing the contempt of court case against Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf regarding implementation of the NRO judgement. The Supreme Court bench’s order after the acceptance reflected that better sense had prevailed. The order acknowledges that the draft letter meets the requirements of paragraph 178 of the NRO judgement while also addressing the considerations of the government. The accepted draft basically withdraws the withdrawal of Pakistan’s interest in the case by the former Attorney General Justice (retd) Malik Mohammad Qayyum while reiterating the legal immunity from prosecution available to heads of state while in office. Does this imply the sword of Damocles dangling above the prime minister’s neck has vanished? It appears not. The Supreme Court bench dismissed the review petition against its September 18 order when Farooq Naek indicated in court that he no longer wished to pursue it. But the court kept its powder dry by refusing Naek’s request to withdraw the show-cause notice issued to the prime minister. On the face of it, observers feel the review petition was a warning shot across the court’s bows by the government to indicate that if the court was not more forthcoming on the draft letter produced by the government, it would dig in its heels and fight out the case once again. Whether true or not, and whether this was a factor in the outcome is difficult to ascertain at this point, but the fact remains that the court showed an inclination to accept the government’s oft-repeated reservations about subjecting the sitting head of state to prosecution in a foreign court. Another explanation for non-discharge of the show-cause notice to the prime minister may be related to the court’s insistence that all documentation and the receipt showing the letter had been received by the Swiss judicial authorities be produced in court at the next hearing. Farooq Naek explained that the letter would have to be delivered by the Pakistani Ambassador or his representative in Switzerland and the process would take about four weeks. On this, having dictated its ‘accepting’ order, the court postponed the hearing till November 14. The legal fraternity has by and large welcomed the resolution of the dragged out affair. One can almost hear an audible sigh of national relief. Aitzaz Ahsan’s view is that the court finally accepted the president’s immunity and that the letter would not lead to the reopening of cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. That is precisely what we have been arguing in this space for as long as one can remember. Nevertheless, relief that the court’s, government’s, and the country’s inordinate time, effort and focus wasted on this non-issue may finally be coming to an end is universal. For a country on the verge of economic meltdown, assailed by terrorism and a deteriorating law and order situation, the misplaced priorities of the judicial system are glaring. Some may be inclined to say all’s well that ends well. Others may be more critical of the whole fiasco and rely on a choice Punjabi saying: Khodiya pahaar tey nikliya chooha (dug up the whole mountain and what emerged was only a mouse).

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