Dissatisfied with a fresh draft of a letter to be sent to Swiss authorities over graft charges against President Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan Supreme Court today directed the government to finalise it by October 10 as per its order that sought revival of the cases.
The revised draft of the letter was presented by Law Minister Farooq Naek before a five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, which expressed its reservations about some paragraphs saying they did not conform with a 2009 judgement that called for reviving the cases against Zardari.
During today's proceedings, the judges went into their chambers for consultations twice. Naek and a government lawyer too were called to the chambers for consultations.
When the judges returned to the courtroom, Naek sought time till October 10 to consult the Prime Minister and finalise the draft of the letter.
The bench then began writing a short order which said that the government wanted more time to make some improvements to the draft letter.
However, Naek interjected and said he had made no such commitment. He further said he had sought time to consult the Premier regarding the draft letter.
The court then adjourned the matter till October 10 and asked Naek to present the draft letter at the next hearing.
The apex court and the government have sparred over several drafts of the letter, especially on the question of whether the Swiss authorities should specifically be asked to revive the cases against Zardari.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who has been charged with contempt for not acting on orders to reopen the cases against Zardari, said during his last appearance in the apex court on September 18 that his government would send a letter to Swiss authorities to revoke another official communication sent in 2007 to close the graft cases.
The Pakistan Premier had said it would be up to the Swiss authorities to decide whether the cases against Zardari should be revived.
Ashraf's predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was convicted of contempt and disqualified in June for refusing to reopen the cases against Zardari.
Recent reports have suggested that the judges are pushing for the letter to specifically call for the revival of the cases related to the alleged laundering of some 60 million dollars by Zardari and his late wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto.
At the last hearing on September 26, the Supreme Court had warned that it would resume contempt proceedings against Ashraf if the government did not finalise by today the letter to be sent to Swiss authorities for reopening graft cases against Zardari.
Emerging from the court after today's hearing, Law Minister Naek said the Constitution gave "complete immunity" to Zardari.
"The Constitution is very clear on the issue of immunity. Under Article 248(2), the President, as head of state, has complete immunity and protection against any criminal proceedings as long as he is in office," he said.
He said he had presented a revised draft of the letter that was approved by the Premier.
After reading it, the judges called him to their chambers and "both sides expressed their reservations," Naek said.
Naek said he had then sought more time from the court as a final decision will have to be made "keeping in mind democracy, integrity and institutions of the country" so that "hostile forces" cannot derail the democratic system.
He made it clear that he had not given any commitment to the court about the draft letter.
Naek refused to comment on whether the judges had any objections regarding the President's immunity.
"We (the government) are completely flexible. Keeping everything in mind, we have sought more time. There should be flexibility on both sides," he added.