Gilani in no mood to tone down battle with judiciary

There is consensus among the top leadership of the ruling Pakistan People`s Party on not apologising to the judiciary.

Last Updated: Jan 18, 2012, 21:48 PM IST

Islamabad: Beleaguered Pakistan government
appears to be in no mood to tone down in the battle of
attrition when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appears
before the Supreme Court on Thursday in compliance with its
direction.

Gilani, who is already involved in a tussle with the
powerful Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is unlikely to
offer apology to the court which has issued a contempt notice
for failing to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali
Zardari, sources said today.

There is consensus among the top leadership of the ruling
Pakistan People`s Party on not apologising to the judiciary or
writing a letter to Swiss authorities to revive cases of
alleged money laundering against Zardari, sources in the party
and its legal team said.

"Neither will Prime Minister Gilani apologise nor will he
assure the Supreme Court about writing a letter to the Swiss
authorities when he appears in court tomorrow in the contempt
of court proceedings," said a close aide to the President.

"We believe that the court would be pacified by the
appearance of the Prime Minister. I think the Prime Minister`s
gesture will assuage the feelings of people concerned," said
the aide.

However, Gilani`s lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, who will present
the case in the court tomorrow, maintained that though the
Prime Minister was not guilty of contempt of court, he should
bow to pressure and ask Switzerland to reopen graft cases.

Ahsan said the President Zardari enjoys full immunity
from criminal cases in Pakistan and abroad and the
constitutional immunity had been notified. So the Prime
Minister cannot be held guilty of contempt. On Monday, the apex court had issued a contempt notice
against the Prime Minister on the ground that he failed to act
on its directive to reopen graft cases against Zardari and
others issued over two years ago. The court also asked him to
appear in person on Thursday.

A lawyer who is part of the PPP`s legal team, said the
Prime Minister is expected to cite constitutional provisions
for his inability to write the letter to Swiss authorities.

Since December 2009, the apex court has been pressuring
the PPP-led government to reopen the graft cases after
striking down the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a graft
amnesty that was issued by former military ruler Pervez
Musharraf.

The government has refused to act on the order, saying
the President enjoys immunity under the Constitution.

Gilani subsequently received the backing of parliament
when it passed a pro-democracy resolution. In his speech in
the National Assembly, he urged the judiciary and military to
protect democracy despite differences with his government. The
judiciary and military, he said, could not "pack up" or derail
the democratic system.

The government`s confrontation with the judiciary over
reviving the corruption cases against Zardari has reached a
head at a time when the PPP is also engaged in a face-off with
the powerful military over an alleged memo that had sought US
help to prevent a feared coup after the killing of Osama
bin Laden in May last year. A Supreme Court-appointed judicial
commission is conducting a probe into the memo scandal.

Talking to reporters, Ahsan, who was yesterday named
as Gilani`s lawyer, gave an indication of the stand likely to
be adopted by the government in the apex court tomorrow while
interacting with reporters today.

"What should we apologise for? This has to be looked
into," he said.

Top lawyers have offered differing views on the issue
of presidential immunity and the interpretation of
constitutional provisions related to immunity.

Noted legal expert S M Zafar said the President enjoys
full immunity in any criminal cases that entail penalties and
punishments like jail terms. "In such cases, the President
cannot be called to court," he said.

Mohammad Farogh Naseem, a leading constitutional
lawyer, contended that the Supreme Court had never issued a
decisive ruling on the issue of the President’s immunity in
criminal cases under Article 248 of the Constitution.

"In my view, the President does not have immunity in
civil or criminal cases," Naseem said.

However, Khurram Latif Khosa, a Supreme Court lawyer
who is part of the PPP`s legal team, said a move to approach
Swiss authorities to reopen the graft cases would open up
complicated constitutional issues.

"The issue is the President has immunity under
Article 248 and writing a letter means violating the
Constitution. We fail to understand why the apex court is
pressing the government to commit constitutional violation,"
he said.

Khosa pointed out that the Swiss Attorney General
had already communicated to Pakistan that his government does
not conduct the trial of those who have diplomatic or
constitutional immunity.

Like other PPP leaders, Khosa said slain former
premier Benazir Bhutto too had been charged in the Swiss cases
and reopening those cases would amount to conducting the
"trial of her grave?. He said: We will not allow this."

PTI