February 2, 2012, will be remembered in the history of the Supreme Court of Pakistan when a seven-member bench, headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk, could indicte the country’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, in a contempt of court case for not implementing its December 16, 2009, order in the NRO case. After hearing the arguments of his counsel, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, the brief order of the court stated: “We are satisfied that prima facie there is enough case for further proceeding into the matter.” The case is adjourned till February 13 for framing the charges and the PM is required to be present on the next date.
Against this backdrop, several analysts were surprised on the statements presented by Aitzaz Ahsan during the hearing, which ultimately proved counterproductive. Instead of focusing on the central issue of the show cause notice, it seems that he ended up defending President Asif Ali Zardari. Reportedly, he said: “Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani could not follow the court’s orders until President Zardari was in office, given his immunity under the Constitution…….there was a ‘reasonable basis’ due to which the PM did not implement the court order, adding that the court order is non-implementable.” However, legal and constitutional experts are concerned about his performance that was quite contrary to his past ‘good’ record, which distinguished him from his contemporaries. Perhaps, the headline, “Caught between law and loyalty”, published in TheNation on February 3, clearly indicates Aitzaz’s state of mind. Apparently, he has put too much at stake to save Gilani, which could have been avoided only if the PPP’s Core Committee so contemplated.
Needless to say, the basic conflict in the words of the so-called respect shown to the court for compliance with its verdicts by the PPP leadership and its total defiance in not implementing it by the Chief Executive is at the heart of the present unfortunate standoff between the two major organs of the State, namely the Executive and the Judiciary. This had been building over a period of time and reached its peak when the court issued a show cause notice to the PM.
PM Gilani is a seasoned politician and not new in this game where advisors can mislead or misguide him, as if he was a novice. No sir! He has been a Speaker of the National Assembly. Many analysts believe that the PM may be heading for a political martyrdom. This time around the party may have chosen him to play this role, since there are speculations that the general elections will, probably, be held by the end of 2012 – i.e. September-October. Otherwise, the PM during his visit to Davos would not have said: “I will rather go to jail than write a letter to the Swiss government.”
Keeping this in view, Barrister Aitzaz had no choice, but to follow the instructions of his client no matter what his personal views might have been on the matter. At the moment, the only available option before him is to quit from this case. But, perhaps, the stakes are too high! So, Aitzaz might have decided to put at stake his professional credibility for the sake of saving the party and the PM during the interim period till the situation takes a favourable turn. Only time will tell whether Zardari’s gamble pays off or not in which the PPP and major stakeholders are playing their cards.
Nevertheless, it would be best to wait till the next hearing, i.e. on February 13, when charges are to be framed against the Prime Minister. Thirteenth is an ominous figure and anything could happen, including Gilani writing the letter to the Swiss courts even before the fateful date. Had the Chief Executive chosen to write the letter earlier, he would not be in trouble today!
The writer is the president of Pakistan National Forum.