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Cost of not writing

February 10, 2012

WRITE the letter. The government has hemmed and hawed enough, it has ducked and weaved from the Supreme Court's straightforward demand enough; now is the time for the government to reassess its stubborn position and to change it. On Monday, the prime minister will appear for the second time in a matter of weeks before the SC, this time to be charged with contempt of court for failing to implement the NRO judgment in totality. Rightly or wrongly, the government feels it has been singled out for unfair and partisan treatment by the SC and that sense of victimhood has fuelled its defiance of the court's order to write a letter to the Swiss authorities that could lead to the reopening of old corruption cases against President Zardari. But the calculus has changed for the government in recent weeks. The question now is more straightforward: is the government willing to sacrifice its prime minister over the Swiss letter?

Until the SC again took up the NRO matter in earnest a few months ago, the government's team handling the issue was relatively smug. By trying every political and legal tactic to stymie the court, the strategy led by former law minister Babar Awan appeared to have succeeded. The NRO matter had seemingly slid off the list of priorities and other issues appeared to occupy the judiciary and roil the political landscape. However, in that strategy of doing whatever it takes to buy more time for the government were sown the seeds of the present showdown. Angered at being defied so brazenly and egregiously, the court once again took up the matter in earnest and this time has showed no sign of standing down at the last minute. Bald defiance does not appear to be an option for the government any more.

At this point, perhaps it is time for some within the government circles to stand up and speak sense to the party leadership. Legal circles appear near unanimous in their opinion that merely writing the Swiss letter will not automatically reopen the cases against President Zardari. In fact, eminent lawyers and legal analysts have suggested that the government could write the letter and simultaneously claim immunity, both under international law and the Pakistani constitution. Within the government circles stands one man, Aitzaz Ahsan, who has both the moral authority and legal expertise to have his opinion taken with great seriousness. Between now and Monday, there is still time for someone like Mr Ahsan, and others, to speak out to avert the catastrophe of a prime minister being convicted by the SC.