Pakistan court extends ultimatum to PM Ashraf

Supreme Court gives the country’s prime minister two more weeks to reopen probe into the affairs of President Zardari.

Supreme Court issued contempt of court notice to Prime Minister Gilani
For over two years the government has resisted judges' demands to reopen investigations into Zardari [EPA]

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has given the country’s prime minister another two weeks to reopen an investigation into the affairs of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The court had ordered Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf to comply by Wednesday with an order to write to authorities in Switzerland asking them to reopen multimillion dollar corruption probes into the president.

Ashraf’s predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was thrown out of office for refusing to write to the Swiss and the court this month made veiled threats that the new prime minister could suffer the same fate.

But on Wednesday, Judge Asif Saeed Khosa adjourned the case until August 8 after the attorney-general, representing the government, asked for time to make “serious and genuine efforts” to resolve the stand-off with the judiciary.

“We trust that it is not impossible to bridge the gap between stated positions of the two institutions,” the judge said.

But Sohail Mahmood, a professor at the National University in Islamabad, told Al Jazeera that nothing would change in the two-week extension that was given.

“The Zardari government has made up its mind – the prime minister is not going to write any letter to the Swiss,” Mahmood said.

“The whole point is that they are going to take on the Supreme Court head on – no letter is going to be written regardless what happens.”

Presidential immunity

On Tuesday, the attorney-general had urged the court to withdraw its orders, calling them “un-implementable” and contrary to the constitution.

For more than two years, the government has resisted judges’ demands to reopen investigations into Zardari, arguing he enjoys immunity as head of state.

The showdown could force elections before March 2013, when the government would become the first in Pakistan’s history to complete an elected, full five-year mandate under wholly civilian leadership.

The allegations against Zardari date back to the 1990s, when he and his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, are suspected of laundering $12m allegedly paid in bribes by companies seeking customs inspection contracts.

In 2009, the court overturned a political amnesty that froze investigations into the president and other politicians, ordering that the cases be reopened.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies