Pakistan govt backs down
The Pakistani government yesterday backed down in a long-running legal wrangle that has already cost one prime minister his job.
Ministers have spent more than two years resisting court orders to write to authorities in Switzerland to ask them to reopen multimillion dollar graft investigations into President Zardari, arguing that as head of state, he enjoys immunity from prosecution.
But yesterday, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told the Supreme Court he had instructed the law minister to write to Switzerland to withdraw a letter sent in 2007 by the then attorney general which asked them to halt probes into Zardari.
The court has given him another week to reopen the corruption case against President Zardari. His government has to write to Swiss authorities and submit a draft at the next hearing on September 25.
It is still unclear how the new letter will be worded and what its implications for the president will be, reports BBC.
Judge Asif Saeed Khosa said the prime minister had made "serious efforts" to resolve the standoff but the court wanted to see the letter before it was sent to the Swiss to check if it fulfilled the order dating back to December 2009.
"It is necessary we should be fully satisfied that the requirement of the order is fully met," the judge said. "When the letter is drafted it shall be presented in the court for our perusal."
The judge adjourned the case to September 25 and instructed ministers to have the draft letter ready by then.
The allegations against Zardari date back to the 1990s, when he and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, are suspected of laundering $12 million allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs inspection contracts.
Until now, the government had steadfastly refused to write to Switzerland, saying Zardari has presidential immunity.
The BBC's M Ilyas Khan, who was in court, says the government appears to have given ground in the long-running dispute.
But the court wants to see the letter before it is sent -- and our correspondent says much will depend on whether government's wording satisfies it.
He says Ashraf has adopted a more conciliatory approach towards the court than his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was disqualified from office for refusing to comply with the court's demands.
The court exempted Ashraf from appearing before it in person until further notice.
Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was thrown out of office in June after being convicted of contempt of court for refusing to write to the Swiss and it seemed his successor Ashraf could suffer the same fate.
If the court accepts the letter, it could bring an end to a saga that has roiled nuclear-armed Pakistan's political scene at a time when the country is struggling with Islamist militancy and a weak economy.
The row had threatened to bring down the coalition government led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which is on course to become the first elected administration in the country's history to complete a full five-year term.
Analyst and author Hasan Askari said the move would probably satisfy the court and bring the standoff to an end but cases against Zardari were unlikely to restart any time soon.
"Swiss authorities have three options: they can stay quiet on this matter because it is already 15 years old, they can wait till Zardari is no longer president, or they can start the case proceedings," Askari told AFP.
"If they decide to re-open the case, the government of Pakistan will seek presidential immunity from the Swiss authorities on the basis of international convention as well as Pakistan's constitutional provision."
Askari said he thought it was unlikely the cases would proceed in Switzerland as long as Zardari was president, though he could be unseated if the PPP loses a general election expected early next year.
"In a way the Supreme Court has bypassed the presidential immunity and has indirectly sought court proceedings against a sitting president in a foreign country," Askari said.