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Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.—File Photo

LAHORE, Oct 10: The federal government informed the Lahore High Court on Wednesday that President Asif Ali Zardari did not hold any political office and no prohibitory order had been issued by the court in the past against the president’s dual office.

Advocate Wasim Sajjad, representing the federation in a contempt of court petition against the president, argued before a five-judge larger bench that Mr Zardari was co-chairperson of a party (PPP) which was neither registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan nor allotted an election symbol.

He said it was the PPP (Parliamentarians) which was registered with the ECP and Amin Faheem was its president and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf its general secretary. Therefore, he argued, the question of political activities on part of President Zardari did not arise. The bench comprising Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Nasir Saeed Sheikh, Justice Sheikh Najamul Hassan, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah is hearing a petition seeking contempt proceedings against the president for not abiding by the May 12, 2011, order to relinquish the political office of PPP co-chairman.

Advocate Sajjad insisted that the LHC in its May 12 judgment had not passed any prohibitory order against the president but expected that he would give up his ‘political’ and ‘unconstitutional’ activities.

Chief Justice Bandial observed that the court had showed restraint and avoided passing a direct order keeping in view the sanctity of the highest office of president. The court had issued a declaration which was meant to be obeyed, he said.

He read out a paragraph of the May 12 judgment: “It is expected that the President of Pakistan would abide by the foregoing declaration of law to disassociate himself from political office at the earliest possible.”

Mr Sajjad reiterated his stance that the order was not prohibitory in nature. He lauded the judgment and said the words used and not used by then judges had great significance.

The counsel gave the same answer when Justice Mansoor Shah asked, “Do you think the expectation expressed by the court was merely a casual remark?” he also asked the counsel why the federation had not challenged the May 12 verdict by filing an appeal.

Advocate Sajjad said there was no need to file an appeal when no order was passed against the president. The president did not commit any contempt of court by virtue of the expectation of the court. He said the matter should have been left to parliament to react to the alleged unconstitutional activities of the president.

The counsel also challenged the locus standi of the petitioner and said that over the past four years no political party had approached the court against the alleged illegal activities by the president.

Advocate A.K. Dogar, the counsel for petitioner Munir Ahmad, interrupted Mr Sajjad and asked whether the judgment was liable to be set aside if no political party opposed the president’s ‘unconstitutional’ activities.

The chief justice said the court could give another chance to the president if he undertook to obey its order. “We can give you time to seek instructions from the president to this effect,” Justice Bandial told the counsel.

The court asked the federation’s counsel to seek instructions from the president and adjourned the hearing till Oct 31.

The court also issued notice to President Zardari on a civil miscellaneous application filed by the petitioner.

The application said there was no need to hear arguments from the federation in the case and the court should initiate contempt proceedings against the president.

The petitioner argued that Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira had already said in a press statement that political activities in the presidency could not be stopped. He said it might be treated as federation’s statement.

Chief Justice Bandial told Mr Sajjad that there should be no misconception about restraint being exercised by the court in taking suo motu notices. “We are showing restraint in taking suo motu notices and facing criticism but we have legal reasons for this,” he said, adding that the authorities should be prosecuted and held accountable first in accordance with the set laws.