By Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, July 3 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan's new Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, has defended the immunity of President Asif Ali Zardari from criminal prosecution both here and abroad, setting the stage for an imminent stand-off between the government and the country's top court.
Last month, the apex court disqualified Yusuf Raza Gilani as prime minister after he refused to accept its orders to write to Swiss authorities for the reopening of graft cases filed against Zardari.
Gilani had argued that President Zardari enjoys immunity as head of the state, which led to his disqualification. Now the new prime minister intends to pursue the same path.
The statement of Ashraf came days after the Supreme Court sought a reply from him whether or not he intends to reopen the graft cases filed against President Zardari.
Gilani was Pakistan's first prime minister in the country's nearly 65-year history to be disqualified over contempt of court.
"The government's stance of not writing a letter to the Swiss authorities remains unchanged," Ashraf told reporters in Lahore over the weekend.
He also said the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) would not let their "first-class president" capitulate before a "third class Swiss magistrate," as the Constitution forbids it.
The Supreme Court has fixed July 12 as the deadline for the reply from the new prime minister when it will resume hearing of the case about a controversial law, under which all corruption cases had been withdrawn against the President and nearly 8,000 other respondents, mostly politicians.
The apex court annulled the graft amnesty law in December 2009 that was introduced by former military President Pervez Musharraf in 2007.
Since then the judiciary has been pressuring the government to reopen the corruption cases filed against the President and other officials.
Legal experts and political analysts here believe that Ashraf's statement that it will not budge from its previous position even if another prime minister is sacked reflects the government's strong stance against the judiciary.
They said that the Supreme Court's previous orders for Gilani are still effective and its insistence that Ashraf should now implement them has brought new confrontation between the two branches of government which has been ongoing for nearly 30 months.
When President Zardari picked Ashraf as one of the two candidates for the office of the prime minister after Gilani's disqualification, political analysts opined that he would show loyalty to the President and would resist the apex court's pressure even if he is disqualified like his predecessor.
Analysts said that the PPP is tough on the issue because it wants to get political advantage and the people's support ahead of the parliamentary elections. Some PPP leaders, including the new prime minister, have indicated that they want new elections this year.
Political analysts are of the view that the government- judiciary conflict is not in the interests of the country as such feud between the two independent state organs is setting not only a bad example in the country and also sending a negative message outside Pakistan.
But the judiciary in Pakistan, which now enjoys independence, has won huge support from the people in its efforts to eliminate corruption. The people want the judiciary to go after corrupt elements whether they are people at the corridors of power, politicians, government officials, or just ordinary citizens.