Pak PM Ashraf seeks time to reopen graft cases
Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf survived his first date in court on Monday with the Supreme Court accepting his plea for more time and adjourning the long-drawn out case over writing to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari till September 18. This was Mr. Ashraf’s first appearance in court as premier and he sought to portray his obedient acceptance of the court’s summons as an example of his government’s respect for the judiciary. However, Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, the judge presiding over the five-member bench, immediately pointed out that respect to the judiciary would be shown by implementing its order; not just by appearing in court.
The Prime Minister presented himself before the court on Monday in response to summons issued on August 8 after the bench decided to initiate contempt proceedings against him for repeatedly refusing to comply with its order to write the letter. Appearing before the court, Mr. Ashraf sought four-to-six weeks time to formulate his response and the court gave him three weeks instead. Initially, the case was adjourned till September 12 but when the premier pointed out that he was scheduled to visit China at that time, the matter was postponed till September 18.
During the hour that he was in court, the premier was told by Justice Khosa that he did not have to personally write the letter; he could delegate the task to someone in his government. Given that this letter has resulted in what is widely perceived as a prolonged stand-off between the executive and the judiciary, the bench noted that this case is not that big an issue but it had been blown out of proportion; adding that further delay in writing the letter would only complicate matters. The court also asked the Prime Minister to instruct members in his government and governors to stop making critical statements against the judiciary. No names were cited by the bench while making this observation.
Mr. Ashraf is the second Prime Minister to be summoned by the court this year; his predecessor Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani was also hauled up first in January in a contempt case on the same issue. Held in contempt of court, he was finally disqualified from membership of the National Assembly in June; resulting in him losing his premiership. Within days of Mr. Ashraf assuming office on June 22, the court began asking him whether he intended to write the letter. With the government maintaining that the letter cannot be written, as Mr. Zardari enjoys presidential immunity while in office, contempt proceedings were initiated against the incumbent premier earlier this month.
Unlike in the case of Mr. Gilani where the government decided early in the day to abide by the court’s summons, this time round the decision that Mr. Ashraf will appear was taken literally at the eleventh hour – on Sunday night at a meeting of all parties that make up the ruling coalition.