The intra court appeal filed by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani against “the decision of the apex court to frame charges in the contempt case”, has been rejected by the eight-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, of the Supreme Court. In a hearing of over 10 hours on February 9, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, the Prime Minister’s counsel, who appeared for the first time before the Chief Justice since the restoration of independent judiciary, termed the February 2 order of the Supreme Court as “miscarriage of justice”.

While he pleaded to the court to suspend the proceedings to frame contempt charges, recall the show-cause notice and set aside its February 2 order, three paragraphs included in it constituted contempt of court and thus were deleted. Needless to say, the case is the result of PM Gilani not writing the letter to the Swiss courts in accordance with the Supreme Court order on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). Also, it is a fact that the court displayed great restraint, despite excesses of the government. According to legal and constitutional experts, the President or Prime Minister does not enjoy blanket immunity, and in such situations the decisions are made by the judiciary through an application.

Coming back to the topic. The decision was final, since the eight-member bench hearing the intra court appeal had provided ample opportunities to amicably settle the contempt issue. But Barrister Aitzaz, instead of saying that the letter would be written in order to save his client from the consequences, took this opportunity as “give-take bargaining”. The Chief Justice’s offer was not heeded, giving the impression that the Prime Minister, as he declared would rather go to jail than write the letter to the Swiss authorities. It seems, however, that the PM has been left with no other options, but to appear before the court on February 13 to face contempt charges.

Whatever happens, one can imagine that this case will make history and be long debated for the consequences that the judgment shall apply. The issue shall follow legal and constitutional course of action, resulting in conviction, if not an honourable acquittal. In democratic countries, usually the Prime Minister resigns before reaching such a situation. But Aitzaz has ruled out this possibility, which was reflected in his brief statement before the media and after the rejection of the intra court appeal by stating that his client should be present before the court on February 13. Perhaps, the constitutional expert has something up his sleeve, since he did not choose the option offered by the Chief Justice on February 10.

The President would, most likely, exercise his constitutional power of pardon. But it is likely to raise a debate whether the constitutional pardon can whitewash contempt charges itself in the manner that money laundering turns the black money into white. Perhaps, some circles feel that the presidential pardon can enable Gilani to continue holding office of the PM.

Regardless of high moral ground that the Prime Minister should enjoy, Pakistan will suffer if an attempt is made to reinstate Gilani. The best course would be to appoint a new PM through an in-house change. In spite of this, it should be remembered that the letter issue cannot be put on the backburner; it will be equally applicable to the new Chief Executive. If he, however, follows Gilani’s footsteps, he will meet the same fate! 

It is quite evident that Pakistan cannot afford such a ridiculous situation and yet call itself a democracy. The question, however, remains: Under such a political environment, can Parliament complete its tenure and will the next elections be held on due date? It is time that the political leadership seriously think and work out solid programmes before the next general elections.

The writer is President of the Pakistan National Forum.