Government, apex court headed for confrontation on Zardari

Islamabad, May 22 (IANS) The Pakistani government and the Supreme Court seemed headed for a major confrontation on reopening a graft case against President Asif Ali Zardari and a statute amendment that has created a commission for the appointment of superior court judges.

At a strategy dinner here Friday night, the government decided to tell the court that a $60 million Swiss graft case against Zardari could not be reopened as he enjoys presidential immunity.

The government would also defend the 18th constitutional amendment on the ground that it had restored democracy and the judiciary.

‘The federal government has finalised a strategy to present its point of view on the defunct National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and the 18th amendment in the Supreme Court, focusing on the point that President Asif Ali Zardari enjoys the immunity, and the case cannot be reopened,’ The News reported Saturday.

Former president Pervez Musharraf had promulgated the NRO, an amnesty against graft, in October 2007 primarily to enable former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Zardari, to return home. Some 250 other politicians, bureaucrats and armed forces officers had also benefited from the NRO.

The Supreme Court had declared the NRO unconstitutional in December 2009 and ordered the reopening of all cases that had been closed under it.

Since then, the government has been ambivalent on the Zardari case in the Supreme Court not saying in as many words whether or not it would be reopened.

The Supreme Court Bar Association has challenged the 18th amendment on the ground that the appointment of a commission on judicial appointments would impact the independence of the judiciary.

The amendment had also overturned the 17th amendment that Musharraf had rammed through parliament in 2003 transferring key executive powers from the prime minister’s office to the judiciary.

These included the power to dissolve the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, and to appoint the service chiefs.

According to The News, Law Minister Babar Awan, ‘who was the author of the strategy’, briefed the dinner meeting about the government’s view that is to be taken before the Supreme Court next week.

The dinner, hosted by Zardari, was attended by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the cabinet ministers belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party that leads the ruling coalition.