ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court Monday granted a 22-day respite to Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf after he assured the bench he would take serious steps to resolve the issue of Swiss letter.

Raja appeared before the bench to respond to contempt of court notice he was issued for not implementing the court order requiring him to write to Swiss authorities for reopening graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari, who is alleged to have amassed $60 million in Swiss banks.

A five-judge bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, which had issued the show-cause notice on Aug 8, heard the case for almost an hour. The PM assured the court that he was serious about resolving the issue and sought for six weeks time. Granting him more than three weeks, the court adjourned the hearing till September 18.

The court earlier wanted to grant him two-week’s time; however, the PM said he will not be able to appear that day due to his tour to China. Justice Asif Khosa said the PM did not have to write the letter himself. He could nominate someone else to write it.

Justice Khosa observed that according to article 90 of the constitution, the premier could exercise executive authority and task someone to implement the court’s orders. The prime minister said that he would be available on a “phone call” whenever the court wants to see him. Justice Khosa observed that appearing before the court is not respect, but complying with the court’s orders is.

Raja said he was facing a lot of pressure as a prime minister to resolve the issue which has created a situation of ebullience in the country. He said the issue has caused ripples in the country and that people had concerns regarding the case. He requested the court to withdraw the show-cause notice issued against him, saying it brings a bad name to the sovereignty of Pakistan.

Justice Khosa said that the issue was not as big as it was being made. However, the court appreciated the prime minister’s appearance and said he was appearing as the premier and not as an accused as no charges had been framed against him. The PM, court said was as respectful as any other citizen of Pakistan. Raja said it was an honour for him to appear before the court.

PM Raja said that he does not want to prolong the case, but only wants to resolve it. He said he needed time to consult his legal team to resolve the issue. “I am only a political worker not a lawyer, I need to understand the case in order to resolve it,” he added. The premier also said that he would also like to take all the party leaders and the coalition partners into confidence.

Justice Khosa said: “You don’t have choice not to implement the court NRO judgment.” The court order has to be implemented, he added. Raja took the plea that some time should be given to him as he has till now spent only 60 days as PM, while the court gave time to his predecessor Yousuf Raza Gilani who was then a PM for almost four years.

Irked by the prime minister’s repeated requests for more time to hold deliberations with his legal aides over the issue, Justice Khosa said that the premier, after the apex court’s judgment, was bound to implement the order without any deliberations. He said the court is not interested in confrontation, adding they could not change court’s earlier decision.

Justice Khosa said that the only thing that court wanted from the government is to tell the Swiss authorities to ignore the letter written be former attorney general Malik Qayyum as it was unlawful. He further said the court wanted the implementation of para 178 of the NRO judgment in letter and spirit, and whatever in the two-and-half-year has been said, is not court’s concern. “We don’t like to prosecute anyone and neither mentioned anyone’s name in the judgment.”

The prime minister said that he had not come to the court just to gain time but to inform that he has good intentions to resolve the matter. Justice Ejaz Afzal asked the PM that as you he has come to the court with “open heart”, he should resolve the matter. The prime minister however kept insisting for more time assuring that he was not employing delaying tactics and that he was serious in resolving the issue.

The court told Raja that if he would write the letter, he could remain PM till the general election; and if gave a positive commitment, they would facilitate him. Justice Khosa said: “The purpose of summoning you (to the court) is that we want to know if you will make a commitment to implement the NRO judgment. Are you ready to give any positive commitment? If you will not give a commitment, the law would take its course.”

Raja said he respected the court and would make serious efforts to end the impasse. The PM said: “I will make all out efforts to bring an end to uncertainty that prevailed in the country… It is my firm belief that it is not in Pakistan’s interest to linger on this issue. I am ready to give a positive commitment to this court that I will resolve this issue.”

The prime minister said that the issue should be resolved in a way which does not harm the sanctity of the judiciary. “I will make a sincere effort to solve this issue in a way that the dignity and honour of the Supreme Court will be maintained,” he said. Justice Khosa thanked the prime minister for his assurance.

Raja said that presently 89 channels were operating in the country and through their talk shows and other programs, they were insulting the PM. Upon that Justice Ather Saeed said that PPP leaders come on TV shows and pass contemptuous against the judiciary. The PM stated that no one would be allowed to bash the judiciary. Justice Athar Saeed also asked the PM to direct Punjab Governor Latif Khosa not to give derogatory remarks against the judiciary.

Earlier, the premier came to court in black Sherwani and white Shalwar along with leaders of his party and coalition partners – ANP, MQM and PML-Q. The PM reached the court 10 minutes before the hearing. There was tight security in and outside the Supreme Court building. Heavy deployment of police was seen on the occasion.

Vague assurance wins Raja 22 days