LAHORE - The Supreme Court’s Thursday’s order in the NRO implementation case is quite embarrassing for the government. It rejects the assertions, made about a million times during the proceedings in the past few years, that the prime minister has not written a letter to the Swiss authorities to seek reopening of cases against President Asif Zardari because the Constitution gives immunity to the head of state.

The court also gave no importance to the plea that the prime minister was advised by the law ministry and other officials not to send the desired communication.

On Thursday, the apex court ordered the prime minister to write a letter to the Swiss authorities without involving the question of advice.

This means now the prime minister will be left with no justification for not complying with the court orders, or he will have to face consequences, which may be quite serious for the political career of the leader from Multan.

The court had annulled the NRO more than two years ago and had ordered the prime minister to approach the Swiss authorities to have the cases against the president reopened. These cases had been shelved following a letter written by then attorney general Malik Muhammad Qayyum when Gen Musharraf withdrew cases against all political leaders and bureaucrats in the name of national reconciliation. The court had held this letter as unauthorised.

A controversy had started about the need for writing the letter. Many constitutional experts were of the view that the government was duty-bound to do what the apex court was telling it to do. However, all PPP leaders had quite a different point of view. They argued that the Constitution gave the president immunity from prosecution and thus no letter could be sent to the Swiss authorities. They gave more importance to their own point of view than to what the court was saying. Many PPP leaders who appeared in various talks shows spoke so authoritatively on the subject that at times it looked as if they knew more law than the judges.

Whenever the matter came up for hearing, anybody representing the prime minister or the federal government repeated the same argument.

A former law minister Babar Awan – who is scheduled to be indicted on March 20 for his reckless utterances against the Supreme Court – once claimed that the government had implemented 90 per cent of the NRO verdict. He said the remaining 10 per cent would be enforced when President Zardari was out of his office and did not enjoy the immunity available to him at present.

Many senior law officials were changed but the government did not commit to send the letter.

In fact, it was a political decision. Prime Minister Gilani was trying to show that he was more loyal to the president – who is also co-chairman of the ruling PPP. He also wanted to establish that unlike former president Farooq Leghari, another leader from South Punjab who was accused of stabbing the PPP in the back by dismissing the Benazir government in 1996, he would stand by the party through thick and thin.

In various interviews, he made it clear that in case there was some negative fallout, he would be there to face it. He committed many a time that he would not let the president suffer on any account.

President Zardari, on the other hand, said in an interview that it was the PPP’s decision that no letter would be sent to the Swiss authorities and that the prime minister would be violating the ‘constitution’ if he flouted the party decision.

Thursday’s order of the Supreme Court has changed the situation. Now the time for prevarications is over. The prime minister will either comply with the order or will have to say in categorical terms that he would not do this. The excuse that the law ministry or his legal advisers were giving him an advice which is in conflict with the apex court’s order would not be available to him anymore.

There are, however, chances that the government will use all possible delaying tactics, as it has been doing in the past. Maybe, the verdict is appealed against.