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Supreme Court of Pakistan. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: The judiciary-executive saga continues. On Saturday the government finally spoke up against the Supreme Court’s observations on the role of the president in the Asghar Khan case.

It filed a review petition against the verdict, but only with reference to the court’s remarks made about the incumbent at the presidency.

According to the petition, the Constitution requires and demands that the symbol of all authority of the state (the president) be shown complete respect by all institutions of the state. It says that any observations that demean and diminish the office of the president need to be avoided.

The petition was returned by the court office because it was not accompanied by the appropriate fee. However, a senior counsel who helped draft the petition told Dawn that it would be re-filed on Monday when the banks were open.

In its judgment on the Asghar Khan petition that accused the ISI of doling out money to politicians in a bid to rig the 1990 election, the Supreme Court had asked the federal government to take action against former army chief Gen (retd) Aslam Beg and former director general of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, for their role in facilitating certain politicians and political parties in the elections.

More important, the decision had also ruled that the individual holding the president’s post would violate the Constitution if he or she failed to treat all people equally and without favouring anyone in particular.

The government, on the other hand, has challenged these observations in the petition filed by Deputy Attorney General Dil Mohammad Khan Alizai.

The government’s move has not come as a surprise because there were indications that the PPP was quite uncomfortable with the ruling.

There had been media reports that the government had trodden cautiously in the wake of the judgment — the PPP meetings in the presidency were no longer followed by a press release and were kept low profile.

Similarly, a recent meeting in Malakwal, on Nov 14, was also dubbed as an “Eid Milan” party instead of a political meeting. Even the speech given by President Asif Zardari, according to some analysts, was less partisan and not as fiery as some of his speeches at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh on the death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto.

However, even these less controversial efforts did not escape the notice of the media and PPP critics and there were many who were willing to say that the President was guilty of ignoring the ruling of the higher judiciary – before the SC verdict, even the LHC had ruled on the president’s role in the federation.

This is not to say that there is no criticism of the SC ruling, which has also proved controversial.

Tariq Mehmood, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, for one has expressed his unhappiness with the court’s observations, explaining that the fundamental question in Asghar Khan’s petition was the use of money, the role of former military officials and the political cell set up in the President House by the late president Ghulam Ishaq Khan. In other words, he feels that the case did not merit a ruling on the president’s role.

GOVT PETITION: Referring to the observation in the judgment that the office of the president is covered by the expression “Service of Pakistan” under Article 260 of the Constitution, the review petition argued that the court did not consider that the president is the head of state and all executive actions are taken in his name under the Constitution. This being so, the petition said, it is incongruous that the head of state should also be held to be a servant of the state.

It added that the office of the president is a political office and emphasised that the President is eligible for re-election under Article 44 and hence he must maintain a rapport with the people and the media.

It then concluded that the president cannot be aloof from political activity and cannot function unless he engages with all political stakeholders in the country.