LAHORE - The shift in the PPP’s policy about the Swiss letter, as seen in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, was quite surprising.
President Asif Ali Zardari, who is accused of having deposited ill-gotten $60 million in Swiss accounts, has consistently been saying that his government will not write the letter to Swiss authorities, ‘come what may’.
He has also been arguing that such a letter will mean putting the grave of Benazir Bhutto (his assassinated wife) on trial.
Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was disqualified as prime minister in June for refusing to write the letter despite the Supreme Court order, has been insistently saying that the injunction is unconstitutional and un-implementable. He has also been claiming that anyone who writes the letter will be violating the Constitution and thus committing an offence of high treason, which is punishable with death.
On many an occasion he said that no PPP leader replacing him as the country’s chief executive will comply with this order of the apex court, no matter what the consequences.
What has made the PPP leadership change its mind now is a matter needing serious probe. Maybe, somebody has told President Zardari that reopening of graft cases against him should not be equated to the trial of the grave of Benazir Bhutto.
It is also possible that some sane elements have convinced the government legal brains that the court order is binding and it has to be implemented, whether they like it or not.
Some people say that the government may have realised that consistent defiance may force the Supreme Court to order the armed forces to get its verdict implemented, and this will create an embarrassing rather threatening situation for the rulers.
Then, there are others who think the government wants to negate the impression that it is confronting judiciary.
Whatever the reason, the government’s willingness to write the letter is a positive development. It will be welcomed by everybody.
When the letter controversy started, it was only Justice (r) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim (now the Chief Election Commissioner) who had proposed that the government should write the letter informing the Swiss authorities that the earlier letter sent by then Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum is withdrawn. In his opinion, such a letter will meet the requirements of the Supreme Court order, and then it will be for the Swiss authorities to look into the implications.
Ultimately, this opinion has prevailed. But, before reaching this conclusion the government tested the patience of the judges and the public at large for a long time.
Every day newspapers published statements of various government functionaries that no letter will be written. TV channels organised countless talk shows on the subject. Even Aitzaz Ahsan, who represented former prime minister Gilani in the Supreme Court, said the letter would not be written no matter how many prime ministers are sent packing.
On the eve of every hearing, a meeting was held at the Presidency, which was attended by the president, the prime minister, many important ministers and heads of the coalition partners. Precious time was wasted in hollow discussions.
A large number of litigants suffered because, seized with this case, the apex court could not take up their petitions.
It would have been better if the decision taken by the ruling party leaders on Tuesday had been taken earlier.
On the other hand, the court has done well by ordering the law minister to produce the draft of the Swiss letter before the bench on Sept 25, the next date of hearing. The bench will examine the draft and approve it before the government sends the same to Geneva.
This will make it impossible for the government to send a draft of its own, which doesn’t satisfy the court.
The law minister has already said in an interview that there is not a single dollar in the alleged Swiss accounts of President Zardari.
Maybe it is so. But let the law take its course.