Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani :Facing contempt charge


A seven-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC), obviously irritated by the lack of response from the government regarding its December 16, 2009 and January 10, 2012 orders in the National Reconciliation Ordinance case, has issued a show cause notice to Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani to explain why contempt of court proceedings should not be instituted against him for failing to implement the SC’s orders. The PM was ordered to appear in person before the bench on January 19. During the proceedings, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa clarified that media reporting of the January 10 order was misplaced and that he had not dubbed the PM dishonest or corrupt. He went on to iterate the court’s respect for the office of the PM while pointing out that the order stated that prima facie the PM may not be honest to the oath of his office. While the clarification spares the PM further personal blushes, it nevertheless can be read as an indictment of the behaviour of the PM in the instant case. The context of this exchange of course lies in the insistence of the SC that the government write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the case against President Asif Ali Zardari, something the government has been reluctant to do on the grounds that the president enjoys immunity while in office. That has been countered by the SC’s insistence that immunity has to be applied for from the court. The PM has said he will appear on the 19th as a mark of respect for the SC, but the question of the Swiss letter still hangs fire. This despite the perception of even PPP legal luminaries that no harm will come from writing the letter since it is unlikely the Swiss judicial authorities will accept the request to reopen the case on two grounds: that Swiss law does not allow reopening a case without new substantive evidence and that a sitting president enjoys immunity under international law. It is now to be seen what position the PM adopts before the bench on the 19th regarding this ticklish matter.

The contempt notice also found resonance in the National Assembly (NA) during the session called to pass a pro-democracy resolution. The resolution did go through, but by a majority rather than consensus after the opposition’s two out of three amendments were rejected despite two hours of negotiations between the treasury and the PML-N, triggering an opposition walkout. True to character, the JUI-F voted for the resolution at the last minute despite being in talks with the PML-N for an opposition grand alliance. The coalition allies and FATA parliamentarians voted for the resolution unanimously. Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar’s parting remark that they would definitely bring a no-confidence motion as soon as they had the required strength did not sound very convincing to objective observers, given the arithmetic of the NA.

With the backing of the core committee of the PPP, the PM’s speech in the NA oozed both defiance and confidence. He argued that neither the judiciary nor the army were interested in derailing the system. In this context, the reported efforts at the presidency to mend fences with the military appear to be making headway. At the present conjuncture, when the government is under pressure from various directions and on the two burning issues before the SC (the NRO and Memo cases), this is to be welcomed. However, it cannot be denied that the PPP may be suffering from some heartburn that its going out of its way to support the military on the Osama bin Laden raid and the Mehran base attack has not been reciprocated in the same spirit. In fact, it is arguable that the ‘reconciliation’ policy of the PPP has often strayed into ‘appeasement’ instead, without any return on such investment. Of late the government’s tone, particularly that of the PM, has taken on a harder edge, but this could well be a case of too little too late. Given the deeply entrenched civil-military imbalance in Pakistan, the tactics of keeping the military on board may have backfired in the shape of the perceived weakness (amidst increasing public criticism of performance in office) of the PPP-led government. What its critics should take note of are the cautionary words of the PM in the NA when he argued that those keen on seeing the back of this government at the earliest by any means possible should not ignore the possibility that such a departure may well envelop the political class as a whole.

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