Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf received breathing space of 22 days to ensure a method to satisfy the Supreme Court with regard to writing to the authorities in Switzerland to reopen multimillion dollar corruption cases against President Asif Zardari. Appearing before the court on Monday to answer the contempt notice issued to him for not complying with its ruling about the letter, he promised that he would resolve the issue in a manner that ensured that the dignity of the court was maintained. His words, “I will make a sincere effort to solve the issue in a way that the dignity and honour of the Supreme Court will be maintained.” And the court displaying, once again, the proverbial judicial restraint to pre-empt any charge of not giving the accused enough time and taking a hasty decision, decided that the Prime Minister appeared before it on September 18 with a suitable response. However, it was not before Justice Asif Khosa, who heads the five-member bench hearing the case, had made it clear that there was no escape from writing the letter. He added, though, that someone in the government having the due authority, and not necessarily Mr Ashraf himself, could write the letter. Besides, Justice Khosa told him that though he appreciated his appearance, by doing so and not following its injunctions did not constitute respect for it. If the court orders were complied with, Mr Ashraf’s tenure as Prime Minister was assured till the general elections, Justice Khosa observed.

It is obvious that, as the Prime Minister said in the court, “this case triggered an uncertain and precarious situation in the country”, but he should know that his own PPP-led government has been responsible for creating such a situation, and now it rested with the government to diffuse it. The Supreme Court has given all the leeway that the Constitution could grant. However, the reality that worries all those who hold the rule of law in great esteem is that the adamant refusal to implement the verdict cannot fail to leave its ugly imprints on society for a long time to come, not to talk of the bad name and derision to which it has exposed Pakistan at the international level. A plain and simple issue has deliberately been twisted to allow it to drag on just in an attempt to rescue a single individual from a possible sticking of the charge of corruption. One would have wished that the time and resources that the letter issue consumed had been spent on the welfare of the people. It is a moment of serious reflection for the ruling leadership, the coalition partners and all, to gauge the harrowing consequences for the nation that a continued defiance of the court would entail. One could be certain that an impartial appraisal of the dangers that confront the country at this juncture would prompt them to give up the confrontational mode and fall in line with the Supreme Court’s wishes. Already, the government will be cognisant of the fact that an interim setup is quite likely to write the letter, if the current government does not. Why give them the chance?