Prime Minister Gilani appeared before the Supreme Court on Thursday to explain why he should not be charged with contempt of court for failing to implement its verdict on the National Reconciliation Ordinance, with particular reference to his refusal to write to the Swiss government to re-open the case against Mr Zardari involving $60 million. Mr Gilani refused to back down from his oft-repeated position that the President enjoyed immunity, putting an end to the speculation in some circles that he would take a U-turn and tender an unconditional apology to the court for non-compliance of its judgement. Mr Gilani said that he had come to the court to show his respect and took the stand, “It is my conviction that he (Mr Zardari) has complete immunity inside and outside the country…..There is no doubt about that.” He could not even imagine disrespecting the court and his cabinet colleagues and coalition partners were there in the court to show their respect. His counsel Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan pleaded that since the President enjoyed immunity against criminal cases in the country as well as abroad, no letter could be written to the Swiss authorities for re-opening the corruption cases against him. Once he was no longer the President, “The letter shall be written,” he argued. Interestingly, before he had taken up the case, Mr Ahsan had been emphatic in claiming that “the letter has to be written” to comply with the court orders. Not surprisingly, he had to encounter loud slogans against him being chanted by a group of lawyers, as he came out of the court building. The government was not to be left behind. Another group of lawyers and PPP supporters shouted slogans in favour of the President and the Prime Minister.

Analysts have pointed out that either by design or unintentionally the arguments put forward both by Mr Gilani and Mr Ahsan before the court for not writing the letter could shift the focus of the court from the contempt case against the Prime Minster to the question of immunity of the President. The government, though crying hoarse on the floor of the National Assembly and elsewhere that Article 248 of the Constitution accorded complete immunity to the President, was reluctant to seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on the issue, for fear that in case it held it otherwise, the government would lose the only argument it had against writing to the Swiss authorities. The court had, however, clearly mentioned in one of its judgments that anyone claiming immunity was required to obtain its verdict.

As the Prime Minister’s lawyer asked for time to study the case, the court adjourned the hearing till February 1, besides exempting Mr Gilani from appearing before it when the hearing is resumed. All eyes are now set on that day to see which way the wind blows.