Two different interpretations have been put on the letter received from the Swiss authorities in response to the one written by the government in pursuance of the Supreme Court decision declaring the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) null and void. The case is well known and pertains to the charge of money laundering against President Asif Zardari. To refresh public memory let us recall, briefly, that there were accusations against Mr Zardari of having received kickbacks in the award of a pre-shipment contract to a Swiss company for which the case was pending before a Swiss court.

One version given by the BBC points to the Swiss refusal to reopen the case on the ground that Mr Zardari enjoys immunity by virtue of the office he holds and till he relinquishes that office no legal proceeding could be conducted against him. Their other contention is that no such case against him is at present being heard in a local court in Pakistan. This interpretation suggests that Mr Zardari would become liable for prosecution if and when he steps down from the office of president.

The government sources have put on an entirely difference interpretation of the Swiss response. Law Minister Farooq Naek has given out that the Swiss authorities have informed the government that the cases against Mr Zardari, which were closed following former Attorney General Malik Abdul Qayyum’s request, cannot be reopened for trial. According to some legal experts, the Swiss have declined to take up the case again because it has become time-barred. Should that be the case, it speaks a lot about the inadequacies of our legal system. That makes the people wonder how, under what legal pretext, the PPP-led government was able to drag the matter on from December 2009 when the landmark NRO judgment was pronounced; it took more than two years for a definitive action to be taken when Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified to hold the office of prime minister and remain MNA for disobeying the court orders to write for the reopening of the case to the Swiss. Here the famous legal dictum, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ comes to mind. This constitutes a clarion call for effecting legal reforms on a priority basis; for, the case in hand apart, tens of thousands of cases have been lying pending for years in the country’s courts and the higher judiciary have time and again declared their resolve to reform the system to ensure quick disposal.