The Supreme Court has ordered Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to comply with its verdict declaring the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) null and void ab initio, without seeking advice from anyone. This order stipulates his writing of a letter to the Swiss authorities asking them to reopen the cases of graft against President Asif Ali Zardari involving a sum of $60 million. The judgment had also decreed that the letter written by the then Attorney General Malik Abdul Qayyum to the Swiss authorities to close these cases was unauthorised. When the case of Mr Gilani’s indictment for contempt of court for failing to implement the NRO judgment came up for hearing on Thursday, former Cabinet and Defence Secretary Mrs Nargis Sethi appeared as the defence witness, as she had done a day earlier. On Wednesday she was asked by the Prime Minister’s counsel Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan how she would describe Mr Gilani while working as his Principal Secretary from December 2008 to January 2011. She had replied that she found him “very soft spoken, smiling one who believes in reconciliation and has great respect for the judiciary”, adding that she had worked with many bosses earlier. The court, however, expressed its reservations about quite a few questions posed by the counsel to the defence witness. Mrs Sethi presented before the court two summaries from the Law Ministry advising the Prime Minister not to write any letter on that count, while counsel Aitzaz argued that the PM was bound to follow the advice.

The seven-member bench headed by Justice Nasrul Mulk asked Mr Aitzaz for a written reply to its order by Mr Gilani on March 19 to the effect that the required letter had been written, and in case the reply was not received by then, the Prime Minister would have to  himself appear before the court on March 21. The apex court also stated that contempt proceedings against Mr Gilani would, however, continue to take place because of his reluctance to obey the court’s previous orders.

It must be recalled that both the President and the Prime Minister have been on record stating that the PPP’s decision about implementing the SC’s verdict on NRO would be followed and the party’s decision was not to do so. Mr Zardari even felt that implementation of the judgment would mean putting “Benazir’s grave” on trial. It is a great pity that while claiming to run a democratic dispensation, they should be in open defiance of the judiciary, negating a fundamental principle of democracy. The sooner that point sinks in, the better it would be for the institution of democracy to take root in the country, staving off the chances of a Bonapartist General to derail it.