NOW that the main Swiss-letter saga is over, perhaps it is time to address, as suggested by Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, one of its incidental consequences: the disqualification of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani from holding public office for five years. Mr Gilani’s disqualification of course stems from his conviction by the Supreme Court for contempt of court and he was convicted because had refused to dispatch the letter to Switzerland on the grounds that the president enjoyed immunity. Now, the Swiss authorities themselves have confirmed the standard interpretation of presidential immunity — and Mr Gilani stands alone as a direct casualty of the tussle between the judiciary and the PPP over the NRO.
The point here is not that Mr Gilani did not defy the court’s orders — he did. Nor, in the larger scheme of things, with sons and assorted family members already carrying the Gilani family torch, does disqualification hurt the former prime minister politically as it would other public representatives. However, there is a case to be made that disqualification of elected representatives from holding public office should be seen through for only the strongest and most durable of reasons. This is particularly so given the peculiar political history of this country in which disqualification is often wielded as a stick by anti-democratic forces to disrupt the democratic process. Seen in that light, with the Swiss case issues seemingly settled until at least Mr Zardari remains president, the continuing disqualification of Mr Gilani from elected office appears excessive and harsh. True, for the Supreme Court to reverse course at this stage would involve some delicate legal gymnastics. But much has been possible under the present superior judiciary, and here is an opportunity to stand alongside the elected representatives and to let the people’s vote be heard and registered.