Pakistan government, Supreme Court heading for showdown again?

By Awais Saleem, IANS,

Islamabad : The government and Supreme Court of Pakistan seem to be heading for a showdown after the former’s reluctance to furnish a satisfactory answer in court on reports that the executive order for the restoration of judges was being withdrawn.

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The apex court had taken suo-moto notice of such reports and Attorney General Moulvi Anwar-ul-Haq was “directed to submit an official response in this regard” during the hearing Friday. The attorney general failed to submit the desired response and sought more time because “the PM was busy and he had been unable to meet him”.

According to media reports, “the federal government was contemplating to withdraw the notification for restoration of judges issued on March 16, 2009”.

“Any such step, if at all taken, would be in violation of the constitution,” remarked Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

The 17-member full bench of the apex court heard the proceedings and remarked that “neither the President nor the PM (chief executive of the government) were authorised to withdraw the notification for restoration of judges”. “The reluctance on part of the AG suggests that there is something fishy,” observed Justice Asif Saeed Khosa.

The court directed the government “to hold a full scale inquiry to find out the basis for these reports that the executive order had been withdrawn”. Though the government had earlier denied that any such plan was in the offing, it however, failed to reiterate the same stance in the court Friday.

Several judges of the Supreme Court including the chief justice and of the provincial high courts were deposed twice in 2007 by the then President Pervez Musharraf. They were restored after the general elections 2008 when the opposition and lawyers held a long march and the Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani intervened.

The relations between the court and the executive in Pakistan have gone sour for the last several months after the apex court struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and ordered the national accountability bureau (NAB) to re-open cases of alleged corruption against tainted politicians.

The NRO was introduced by former president Musharraf in 2007 to grant pardon to politicians and bureaucrats who were convicted or were facing trial in corruption cases. The ordinance paved the way for the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari who has since been elected the country’s president.

After the NRO was declared null and void, the court also directed NAB to write to Swiss authorities for re-opening alleged corruption cases against Zardari. The government has shown reluctance in following the court orders on the grounds that “it could not proceed against the country’s president”.