ISLAMABAD – Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, appearing before the Supreme Court on contempt of court notice issued to him, said President Asif Ali Zardari has complete immunity inside and outside the country under Article 248, but the seven-member bench insisted that the court should be satisfied over the immunity issue.

The PM, who told the bench he has all respect for the honourable court, was exempted from appearing in person but told to submit detailed reply on February 1 – the next date of hearing.

The hearings’ outcome disappointed those seeing an apology coming form Gilani or expecting a rush to framing of charges against the premier by the court. To the common man too, given the media hype created over the issue, it was a great deal of fuss over something unimportant. But analysts warned the PPP enthusiasts against going for any merrymaking as the breather has brought along a more grievous thing – the question of presidential immunity has finally landed in the apex court which the government has so far been avoiding. Gilani is the second prime minister who appeared before the Supreme Court in response to a show-cause notice for contempt of court. Earlier in 1997, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had appeared before the apex court on a contempt of court case. The bench hearing the case excludes Chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and is being headed by Justice Nasirul Mulk and comprises Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Muhammad Ather Saeed.

Counsel of the PM, Aitzaz Ahsen also told the court that in his opinion though there was no harm in writing to Swiss authorities but President Asif Ali Zardari, not as an individual but as the head of the state, has immunity. “No Pakistani authority can push the President to foreign fire,“ he remarked.

Aitzaz informed the bench that on the order of the court his client was present in the court. Justice Nasirul Mulk asked him whether his client wanted to say something.

The prime minister came on the rostrum and defending the president said: “In the entire world the head of the state and the prime minister have complete immunity.” It will give bad signal internationally if letter is written to Swiss authorities for reopening the cases against NRO beneficiaries including President Asif Ali Zardari.

Prime Minister Gilani arrived at the court by driving the car himself. Fifteen federal ministers, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, Gilgit Baltistan CM Syed Mehdi Shah, Punjab Governor Sardar Latif Khosa, Presidential Spokesperson Farahatullah Babar and larger number of Pakistan Peoples Party workers gathered at the Supreme Court to welcome their the chief executive of the country.

In his some ten-minute address, he told the court though there was debate in the country on NRO issue, no one proposed changes in the 18th Amendment regarding immunity to the president. “After appearing of news in media regarding contempt of court notice I had said on the floor of the national assembly that I will appear before the bench. I had never an intention to defame the Supreme Court.”

Justice Nasir appreciated that the prime minister for appearing before the bench. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said it was a great day in Pakistan’s history that the chief executive of the country has come. “We appreciate the gesture.“ The PM stated whenever the court would summon him he would appear before the bench.

“We had restored the 1973 Constitution to its original form,” Gilani said, adding if there was no constitution then there will be no respect for the institutions. After the fall of Dhaka it was the unanimous constitution that kept the country intact, he maintained.

The PM said Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who gave unanimous constitution to nation, and the Pakistan Peoples Party chairperson Nusrat Bhutto appeared also before the court. He said late Benazir Bhutto is their leader and they would fulfil her mission. The PM informed the bench that in respect of the court all the coalition partners of the government are present in the court. “We have highest regard for the judgments of the Supreme Court.”

After the Prime Minister statement, his counsel Aitzaz Ahsan addressed the court. He argued it was unnecessary to issue contempt of court notice to the PM for not writing to the Swiss. Not writing the letter does not require criminal proceeding against the premier, he added. He said his client bona fide and genuinely believes that the president has immunity and therefore there was no need to write to the Swiss authorities.

The court asked the learned counsel to satisfy the court on the issue of immunity. Upon that Aitzaz said he had appeared in the case wherein contempt of court has been issued to his client. But he said he would try to also satisfy the court on that count. Justice Khosa said there were 90 per cent chances that you would succeed but first try to persuade the court and once you would convince them then there would be no issue. But Justice Osmany said if it would be established that there was no immunity under Article 248 then will the government write letter to Swiss authorities?

Aitzaz informed the court that the PM has to go by the advice and summary of secretary law. But unfortunately no proper advice or summary submitted to him on the issue. Justice Osmany said that lot officials including chairman NAB got wrong advice.

The court observed that till today there was an impression that the government wilfully disobeyed the NRO judgment. Aitzaz replied that the prime minister had no wilful intention to disobey the court’s order. Aitzaz said the PM has not committed wilful disobedience but is handicapped. He said Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani has taken oath to uphold the constitution.

Justice Khosa remarked for the last two years the secretary has been asked about the summary on non-implementation and his stance has always been that he had submitted the summary but no reply was received from the relevant authority.

Aitzaz said for the last few days there was too much pressure on PM. “The media say “he has been condemned by the court”. Justice Khosa they also feel sorry when they read this kind of things in the media. Justice Nasir asked Aitzaz to forget what media say and just confine to the case. “We are at the preliminary hearing before framing the charge.”

Aitzaz said in order to submit reply he needs at least one month, saying he has to obtain lot of documents from the law secretary, who is abroad, and the record from NAB. Justice Nasir said the most of the documents are on the record, adding you could get the record from the secretary-incharge. Aitzaz said the court has shown grace in PCO cases and therefore give him some time as he has to go through lot of files, adding the court is also bound by the constitution and the Article 5 says not to rush.

He prayed that prime minister should be exempted from appearing in person. Justice Nasirul Mulk said: “We understand that the prime minister is very busy person therefore can’t call him everyday therefore you argue the case.” Aitzaz insisted he needs time for preparation. The court on the request of Aitzaz Ahsan adjourned the hearing till February 1, 2012. In the next date of hearing Aitzaz would addressed the court on issue of immunity to President under Article 248.

After the hearing Aitzaz addressed the media. As he was talking to journalists the lawyers loyal to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry gathered there and chanted slogans chief ‘taray jan nisar beshamar’ and ‘loton ka jo yar hai ghadar hai ghadar hai’ (CJP there are lot of loyalists of you and friend of turncoat are traitors). Aitzaz Ahsan said Justice Iftikhar is also his chief justice and those who were chanting slogans are his friends.