Something’s got to give
President Zardari’s directive to Gilani to appear before the court would not resolve the crisis unless either Mr Zardari succeeds in getting immunity from the SC in matters of litigation or the government writes to the Swiss authorities to open the cases against the President. Two reasons, one legal and the other political, were given by the PPP led government to explain its failure to comply with the apex court’s order. The legal argument centering around presidential immunity was rejected by the SC which held that to seek immunity Mr Zardari was required to present his case before the apex court. The political reason advanced was that as PPP fondly cherished the memory of its slain leader Benazir Bhutto, it was unthinkable for the party to conduct what it called the ‘trial of BB’s grave.’ In a TV interview on January 8, President Zardari maintained that for the PPP this was a point of principle ‘come what may’.
The party has up to Thursday to decide whether it is willing to carry out the court’s order. The party leadership has developed a perception that it is being discriminated against and conspiracies are afoot to overthrow its government. It has asked why out of thousands of NAB cases, which involve around three dozen politicians, only Mr Zardari’s case has been taken up. It has also questioned the criteria employed by the SC to determine the priority of the cases to be taken up by it. It has asked why Asghar Khan’s petition against ISI’s funding of a number of non-PPP politicians has not been taken up despite its importance. The matter is likely to be debated by the historians in days to come, particularly if the standoff between the two pillars of the state leads to a collapse of the system.
The court and the government have taken strong positions. Unless either of the two displays flexibility, there is little hope of the crisis being defused. That leaders of the allied parties would accompany the Prime Minister to the court indicates that even if Mr Gilani is removed, the PPP has enough strength to get another loyalist elected Leader of the House. This will, however, only intensify the crisis by bringing the judiciary and executive into head-on clash. This would be recipe for the unravelling of the system, which needs to be avoided.