The Supreme Court turned down, on Friday, the Prime Minister’s appeal against the show cause notice issued to him by a 7-member bench to indict him for contempt of court. As a consequence, he would be formally indicted on February 13 when he appears in person before it. Mr Gilani has incurred the indictment charge on account of his disregard of the verdict of 17-member bench of the Supreme Court, declaring the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) null and void ab initio and directing the government to reopen all cases, whether in Pakistan or abroad. These cases had been closed following the amnesty accorded under the NRO. The order pointed out that even Parliament had not given its approval of the NRO. The main sticking point for the Prime Minister to implement the verdict in full turned out to be the court’s specific directive to write to the Swiss authorities for the reopening of cases against President Zardari involving $60 million. The court had ordered that the Swiss authorities be told that the letter written by then Attorney General Malik Abdul Qayyum withdrawing the case was illegal. It is noteworthy that the Supreme Court decision on the NRO came as far back as December 2009 that followed a review petition by the government, which also was rejected. Yet, all this while the authorities, backed by PPP politicians, refused to implement the verdict, proffering one argument or the other.

There is no doubt that the apex court has demonstrated remarkable restraint in the face government’s defiant attitude to its orders. There were observations galore made by Mr Gilani, though, even on the floor of the National Assembly which questioned the justification of judiciary’s ‘interference’ in the executive domain. In fact, it was pointed out by the court to the Prime Minister’s counsel Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan that in order to avoid the possibility of any discontent or turmoil in the country, the judges adopted a soft posture, yet there could be no compromise on obeying the court. Mr Gilani, it would be recalled, had stuck to the position that the government had no intention of writing to the Swiss respecting the wishes of the PPP, rather than asking for the reopening of the cases in compliance with the court’s wishes. The Prime Minister was given another chance during the inter-court hearing on Thursday to write to the Swiss authorities in order for the court to drop the idea of indicting him. But his attorney could not give any assurance to that effect, thus losing a golden opportunity of having the case against his client dropped.

The only attitude befitting a democratic order would have been an unqualified and unquestioned obedience to judicial decisions. Defiance at the highest echelons of power, in particular, only threaten the system so painstakingly reinstituted in the country. That Pakistan has to face a situation unheard of in a civilised society functioning on democratic principles in itself constitutes the greatest indictment on its ruling leadership. The sooner this attitude is dropped the better for the nation and the future of democracy in the country.