Pakistan’s Supreme Court sent mixed signals this week as it postponed confrontation with the Prime Minister over its order to write a letter to Swiss authorities reviving corruption cases against the President, Asif Zardari. Convictions against Mr. Zardari were previously overturned when evidence of a political conspiracy surfaced in 2001.
Speaking on Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa rejected a request by Attorney General Irfan Qadir that proceedings be delayed until after Ramadan, but then stated that the Court accepts that the President enjoys immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution.
“We don’t deny about the immunity and we are ready to give any help by even stating in our order that Zardari is the president and has the immunity. God willing nothing will happen and democracy will not be derailed,” Justice Khosa said, adding that the world would watch that both the institutions would be vindicated.
In a separate hearing on a recently promulgated bill immunizing specific high-level officials from contempt of court charges, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry seemed to signal that he is prepared to deny the president immunity.
Asking whether US Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were granted immunity, the chief justice of Pakistan on Wednesday observed that if the court had not granted immunity to the prime minister, it could also withhold it from the president.
While Justice Khosa’s conciliatory remarks suggest the possibility of a way out to defuse the tensions, Chief Justice Chaudhry’s are somewhat bewildering. US Presidents Nixon and Clinton were not be granted immunity because the US Constitution does not provide for it like Pakistan’s Constitution does.
Whatever was intended by the Chief Justice’s remark, Justice Khosa’s statement suggests that the Court may not be willing to push the confrontation to the brink. This is a positive sign that discussions may be taking place to find a way out of the present impasse that preserves the integrity and authority of both the judicial and executive branches of government, and, most importantly, the Constitution.