LAHORE - LAHORE
Sajid Khan Lodhy
While the tensions between two of the constitutional pillars, the judiciary and the executive, seem not to ebb down any sooner, the judiciary delivered a double whammy to the government on Wednesday with the Supreme Court giving a two-week deadline to the newly-elected Prime Minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, to show his intention whether he would ask Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, and the Lahore High Court (LHC) asking President Zardari to resign from his post as the co-chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) by September 5. The judiciary appears to be in no mood to offer any respite to the government which certainly can now feel the whirlwind it has fallen into: public backlash, opposition’s criticism and standoff with the judiciary. Apparently, decisions after decisions are being delivered ensuring the government does not feel at ease with the way it has been going around its business for the past four and half years. The court dismissed Yousuf Raza Gilani as prime minister after convicting him of contempt in April for not implementing the verdict in the National Reconciliation Ordinance case. The court had ordered Gilani to write a letter to the Swiss authorities for reopening the graft cases against President Zardari, but he refused and was subsequently held in contempt of the court’s order. The PPP loyalist was sent packing by the apex court on June 19, and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was nominated by the party to step into his shoes.
In the Supreme Court
On Wednesday, a three-judge bench headed by Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh reminded Attorney General Irfan Qadir that Gilani had been convicted for contempt and sentenced for refusing to act on the SC’s orders to revive Zardari’s corruption cases. “The new prime minister was elected last week and we trust that he will honour the direction given by this court,” Justice Mulk said. “In the meantime we direct the attorney general to obtain instructions from the prime minister and inform the court on the next date of the hearing on July 12,” he said, adjourning the hearing.
The allegations against Zardari date back to the 1990s, when he and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, were suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to launder $12 million allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs inspection contracts. The Swiss shelved the cases in 2008 when Zardari became president. The government insists the president has full immunity. But in 2009 the Supreme Court overturned a political amnesty that had frozen investigations into the president and other politicians, ordering that the cases be reopened. Ashraf faces his own corruption allegations from his tenure as water and power minister, and many believe he will be forced out soon — either by elections or the judiciary. It should be mentioned here that before and after Raja’s oath-taking ceremony, President Zardari reiterated the Swiss letter will never be written, terming it as the trial of Benazir Bhutto’s grave.
The other respondents
The court also reviewed the matter of beyond-the-rules appointments of Adnan Khwaja as Chairman OGDCL and Ahmad Riaz Sheikh as Additional Director Federal Investigation Agency by Gilani. Dr Basit, their counsel, argued that his clients have paid the price and pleaded that the bench should declare Wednesday the last day for the case. The apex court had adjourned the case on the request of Aitzaz Ahsan due to contempt of court case hearing against Gilani.
At this Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said the case could not be concluded in the absence of the lawyer of National Accountability Bureau (NAB). During the hearing, the court asked the lawyer of former Attorney General Malik Qayyum whether NAB filed a reference against Malik Qayyum, at which Waseem Sajjad said Malik Qayyum was under treatment in a hospital in London and NAB has confirmed it from Pakistan High Commission.
Zardari’s dual offices: Meanwhile in Lahore, the High Court asked President Zardari to resign from his post as the co-chairperson of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) by September 5 and suspend political activities in the President House after completing the proceedings on petitions of contempt of court, filed against the president for holding dual offices.
A three-member bench headed by LHC Chief Justice Umar Atta Bandial was hearing the contempt of court case against the president. During the hearing, lawyers presented their arguments and said that the president should follow the court’s orders.
The court had ordered the president to stop political activities in the President House in May 2011, citing that the office of the president is a constitutional one and does not belong to any party. President being the head of state and him being representing the federation, he cannot represent any single party; he has to be neutral. But, President Zardari and the PPP, according to the court, continued to flaunt court’s directives, forcing it to come to such a decision. However, the court has chosen a lenient option by giving the president more than three months to resign from one post. The petitioners AK Dogar and Azhar Siddique told the court that the president was using President House for the purpose of political activities and national wealth is being also spent on this purpose. They added that according to constitution the president of the country should be impartial and non political person. Another such petition was filed in 2007, by one of these petitioners (A K Dogar), against the then president, Pervez Musharraf, on holding two offices at the same time and whether he could contest elections in uniform. The petition was decided in favour of the president because the 17th Amendment in the constitution allowed him to keep two offices. However, holding two offices at the same time was banned in the 18th Amendment. The petitioner urged the bench to give one more chance to President Zardari to quit his one post; otherwise, action against him should be taken if the court order was not implemented.
The chief justice responded to the arguments and said that the issue under consideration had constitutional importance and that the verdict was also in accordance with the constitution of Pakistan. He added that the court would provide the president with ample time to resign from his post as the co-chairperson of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and suspend political activities in the President House. The court has given one more chance to the president and has adjourned the hearing till indefinite period.