Accord to protect democratic process -CJ gives govt two weeks to rethink its NRO strategy: BACK FROM THE BRINK
By Syed Irfan Raza and Ahmed Hassan
ISLAMABAD: Having braced itself for fireworks on Monday, the nation was greeted by a quiet and un-dramatic denouement by the afternoon.
President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met at the presidency in the afternoon while the Supreme Court announced its decision to give the government time it had asked for and adjourned till Oct 13 the hearing of a case relating to implementation of its judgment on the NRO.
In other words, both the parties stepped back from the precipice – the government by not submitting a summary declaring that the president enjoyed immunity and the Supreme Court by accepting the attorney general’s plea for more time.
A source close to the presidency commented later in the day: “The situation could have snowballed, but sanity has prevailed.”
A press release issued by the presidency expressed the sentiments more sedately by claiming that “the meeting expressed resolve to defend and protect the democratic process and to resolve all issues in accordance with the Constitution”.
Apparently, the press release which also said the meeting “reviewed flood relief measures in the country and the ongoing fight against militancy”, was approved by the three participants. No wonder then that the presidency described the day’s events as “triumph of wisdom”.
However, this is not to say that the situation has been defused completely. The attitude and action of the two sides will determine the future and whether or not the peace and reconciliation that marked Monday is an interlude or something more substantial. For the time being, however, the government will pull its punches and not hit out at the judiciary. This much can be deciphered from the prime minister’s Monday night statement instructing all cabinet members and PPP parliamentarians to refrain from issuing any statement or comment on the NRO case which is sub judice.
This appeasement also appears to be policy that was communicated to Gen Kayani. Dawn has learnt that an option discussed during the 90-minute meeting with the COAS was to send to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry a letter seeking his opinion on how the government could implement the court verdict on the NRO.
In addition, the government will use the reprieve gained from the SC to get its act together and take some long due steps like reducing the size of the cabinet and getting rid of some individuals in the government who are seen to be controversial or corrupt; collateral damage that the government will have to cause to save the president.
That the government is still undecided about exactly whom to ditch can be gauged from the fact that Interior Minister Rehman Malik held a press conference after the adjournment of the NRO case and denied reports about his resignation.
At the same time, the ease with which the crisis was defused did not seem this obvious till the night before as Sunday was dominated by various statements of Prime Minister Gilani that were remarkable for successfully adding to the prevailing confusion. He had dismissed suggestions of a change in government and spoke of a meeting with the chief justice though he insisted that his government would defend the constitutional immunity of the president in the court the next day in the summary he had signed.
His tone on Monday was completely different; talking to the media after the government’s tactics in the Supreme Court had been announced, he refused to answer whether or not he would ever write a letter to the Swiss court under the SC decision.
He also said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to whom he had spoken on the phone the night before had advised him to avoid a confrontation. And the man, who had spent the better part of Sunday speaking about the NRO, its beneficiaries and the government’s response to it, told journalists that the issue was sub judice and he did not want to comment on it.
However, those used to the mixed signals the prime minister is wont to give in his speeches and talks, were of the opinion that his words had to be taken with a pinch of salt. They pointed out an earlier incident in February this year in which the prime minister spent four days taking a tough stance against the Supreme Court over the appointment of judges ended by the former’s overnight volte-face; he just held an unscheduled meeting with the chief justice and then told the media that the government was willing to accept the judiciary’s appointments.
That the government had decided on a similar volte-face was clear on Monday morning when it was announced that it was going to ask for more time.