Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on Tuesday gave the clearest hint that immunity to President Asif Ali Zardari under Article 248 of the Constitution was still an undecided issue and any one seeking it would have to come to the Supreme Court for a judgment. The issue of immunity was raised by NAB Chairman Navid Ahsan in the Supreme Court while appearing in the Ahmed Riaz Sheikh case and stated that as the president enjoyed immunity, some decisions of the Supreme Court on the NRO could not be implemented so far. But the chief justice snubbed the NAB chairman, asking him why he was pleading the case of the government or the president and said: “No one has come to us so far to get a verdict on whether any one enjoys immunity.” The exchange on the immunity issue unleashed a storm in the media and almost every TV channel had judicial and legal experts discussing the pros and cons of the CJ remarks, some speculating whether the Presidency and the chief justice were heading for a collision course, which might shake up the entire system.
But the sudden eruption of the immunity issue also confirmed reports and analysis published by The News and Jang on January 20, 2010, which stated that the NRO judgment did not recognise any immunity for any of the NRO beneficiaries, including President Asif Ali Zardari. If he considers himself to be immune from being proceeded against, he will have to claim it before the court. The apex court left no doubt on Tuesday that it was the court that would decide whether the president should be given immunity or not. When this question came before the Supreme Court last time, as the then president General Pervez Musharraf claimed constitutional immunity, the SC had denied him. The NRO judgment subtly rejected this extraordinary treatment to an individual or a group of persons by referring to the principle of equality (Musawa’at) as enshrined in the teachings of Islam. On Tuesday, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry responded to Chairman NAB Navid Ahsan’s plea about the presidential immunity under Article 248, but it was Justice Ramday-led 13-member bench, which had refused to allow this immunity to the then president General Musharraf in the chief justice suspension case decided on July 20, 2007. The Supreme Court’s detailed judgment on the NRO was released to the media on the evening of Feb 19, 2010. Next day, on Feb 20, the main story in The News and Jang clearly reported: “The Supreme Court’s detailed judgment on the NRO has deprived President Asif Ali Zardari of the immunity that he was supposed to have enjoyed. Now, the president will have to persuade the court if he seeks immunity.
The judgment issued on Tuesday does not discuss President Asif Ali Zardari, but like other accused all his corruption cases, both within Pakistan and outside, stand reopened. Now the onus would be on the president and his legal eagles to argue before the court to prove that Zardari enjoys legal or constitutional “immunity” or “exemption”, so he could not be tried under any criminal offence during his term of office. Although the government, the PPP leadership and their sympathisers or promoters in the media criticised the Jang Group for this interpretation of the NRO judgment, the Supreme Court judgment plainly talked about the revival of the pre-Oct 2007 situation without any exception and exemption, which was a clear indication that no immunity was given to anyone in the NRO verdict. The judgment ordered the reopening of “all” the cases, both within Pakistan and outside, closed under the NRO besides directing the NAB and other authorities to freeze the assets of all concerned as was the position on Oct 5, 2007.”
By: The News