Avoiding confrontation

Prime Minister Gilani has assured Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry that the PPP-led government respects the judiciary and will fully cooperate with the courts in all matters. The prime minister telephoned the chief justice and promised that the government would honour the verdicts of the judiciary. Chief Justice Chaudhry in turn assured the premier that the judiciary will work in accordance with the constitution. The prime minister does not want a collision between the executive and the judiciary, as it will only harm the democratic process. It must be said here that Prime Minister Gilani has tried to defuse tension between the judiciary and the government many a time in the past. The latest tension comes amidst speculations about what will happen when the federal Law Minister, Dr Babar Awan, appears before the Supreme Court on May 25. The apex court has summoned the law minister to hear the government’s stand on why the NRO verdict has not been implemented so far, the bone of contention being the Swiss cases against President Zardari.

The government will argue its case as per the constitution, which gives immunity to the president. It is surprising that the government has not yet pleaded its case properly before the apex court. The Supreme Court may or may not view the immunity issue in a different light than the government but it should be kept in mind that the Swiss authorities have closed the case and are not willing to reopen it. Geneva’s attorney general maintains that under international law, a sitting president cannot be tried. But if worst comes to worst and the Supreme Court insists that a letter be sent to the Swiss authorities by the government of Pakistan for the reopening of the cases, it should be done so as to avoid a clash. Since the matter is sub judice, we would not delve into the legalities of the case but with all due respect to the superior judiciary, we must express a word of caution here. The judiciary must consider that such an action would run the risk of humiliating Pakistan in the international arena. We already do not enjoy a very good reputation internationally because of the terrorist networks operating from Pakistani soil. If the government writes to the Swiss authorities to reopen a corruption case against the sitting president, it would be tantamount to making a mockery of our democratically elected government and president. We are sure that the judiciary must have weighed all the pros and cons before demanding such action from the government, and as the chief justice recently said, “Justice should be done even if the heavens fall.”

Today we have a democratic government in place, a free and independent judiciary and a relatively free, if not totally responsible, media. Since the nation has fought long and hard to achieve all this, an executive/judiciary clash must not let the people’s sacrifices go to waste. There are some undemocratic elements in this country who would be more than happy to sit back and watch the two most important institutions confront each other. In order to avoid a confrontation and possible subsequent derailing of the system, the prime minister has taken a good step by reaching out to the chief justice and assuring him of full cooperation. We have come a long way, let us ensure we do not go into reverse gear.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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