May 14, 2012
Pakistan: The Herculean job of defending a corrupt president
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on May 8, 2012 announced the much-awaited detailed judgment in the contempt case against Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani for refusing to obey the court’s 2009 order to write to the authorities in Switzerland to reopen corruption cases against President Zardari.
The court on April 26 announcing the short order awarded 30-second symbolic sentence to the premier.
“Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister of Pakistan/Chief Executive of the Federation, is found guilty of and convicted for contempt of court under Article 204(2) of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 read with Section 3 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance (Ordinance V of 2003) for wilful flouting, disregard and disobedience of this court’s direction contained in paragraph No 178 of the NRO judgment,” the detailed order stated.
The verdict said the contempt committed by the prime minister was substantially detrimental to the administration of justice and tended to bring the court and the judiciary of the country into ridicule.
It may be recalled, in December 2009, Pakistan's Supreme Court had declared the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) 2007 as unconstitutional. The NRO was part of a deal negotiated by the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to share power with the blessings of Washington. The NRO had paved the way for the return of Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) chairperson Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in December 2007.
Under the garb of “reconciliation” former dictator-president Gen Pervez Musharraf promulgated the ordinance, to drop a number of cases in and outside Pakistan against Benazir and her husband Asif Ali Zardari who is now the President of Pakistan. The most prominent among these were the Swiss money laundering cases against Benazir and Zardari.
The court directed the government to reopen all cases withdrawn under the NRO and write a letter to the Swiss authorities for restoring graft cases President Asif Ali Zardari.
It may be recalled that in August 2003, a Swiss Court found former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her widower, Asif Zardari, guilty of money laundering. Investigation Judge Daniel Devaud sentenced them to a six-month suspended jail term, fined them $50,000 each and ordered they pay more than $2m to the Pakistani Government along with a diamond necklace. The case was related to an illegal six per cent of commission or bribe worth $12 million for awarding a pre-shipment customs inspection contract to two Swiss firms Societe Generale de Surveillance and Cotecna. The judge said they had illegally deposited millions of dollars in accounts in Switzerland and ordered the money be returned to Pakistan.
Since 2009, the Supreme Court has repeatedly demanded that Gilani’s government write a letter to Swiss authorities asking that the case against Zardari be revived. The Supreme Court wants the 60 million dollars in this account returned to the country.
The Gilani government, instead of writing to the Swiss authorities for the reopening of the corruption case and for returning the proceeds of the account, has been dilly-dallying since the NRO judgment. The only legal justification it constantly could comes up with was that Zardar enjoys constitutional immunity as President.
One need not be a sage to figure out as to what exactly the government is trying to do: it is simply defending the corruption proceeds. What the remote controlled government of Prime Minister Gilani (since Zardari holds the real political power in Pakistan) has decided to do is to rely on the only option left to him: just politicize the issue. Instead of implementing the Supreme Court order the Gilani regime cronies are ridiculing the apex court.
One of such crony, Baber Awan, who apologized the Supreme Court for contempt of court, is elected to the Senate in March last. Another ruling PPP member, Barrister Atizaz Ahsen, who is on record as saying that the government should write a letter to the Swiss authorities, became defense lawyer for Prime Minister Gilani in the contempt of court case. Atizaz argued in the court that the government cannot write the letter as long as Zardari is President. Not surprisingly, Atizaz Ahsan is also given a seat in the Senate.
The government strategy is successful in creating confusion and to push into the background the issue of corruption while the country remains as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The Transparency International ranked Pakistan as the 42nd most corrupt nation in 2011.
Pity the Nation
In the context of Prime Minister Gilani's contempt of court case one of the justices on the bench added as footnote, to the May 8 judgment, a parody of Khalil Gibran's well-known poem Pity the Nation (whose statesman is a fox) that paints a picture which unfortunately appears quite familiar in the case of the current economic and political turbulent situation in Pakistan:
Pity the nation that treats a criminal as a hero
and considers civility as weakness
and that deems a sage a fool and venerates the wicked.
Pity the nation that adopts a Constitution
but allows political interests to outweigh constitutional diktat.
Pity the nation that demands justice for all
but is agitated when justice hurts its political loyalty.
Pity the nation whose servants treat their solemn oaths
as nothing more than a formality before entering upon an office.
Pity the nation that elects a leader as a redeemer
but expects him to bend every law to favor his benefactors.
Pity the nation whose leaders seek martyrdom
through disobeying the law
than giving sacrifices for the glory of law
and who see no shame in crime.
Pity the nation that is led by those
who laugh at the law
little realizing that the law shall have the last laugh.
Pity the nation that launches a movement for rule of law
but cries foul when the law is applied against its bigwig,
that reads judicial verdicts through political glasses
and that permits skills of advocacy to be practiced
more vigorously outside the courtroom than inside.
Pity the nation that punishes its weak and poor
but is shy of bringing its high and mighty to book.
Pity the nation that clamors for equality before law
but has selective justice close to its heart.
Pity the nation that thinks from its heart
and not from its head.
Indeed, pity the nation
that does not discern villainy from nobility.
I believe that this poetic judgment reflects the whole story of the current situation in Pakistan where the ruling elite is convinced that it can get away with any illegal and un-constitutional action as long as it has the patronage and protection of its foreign masters.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America