On August 4, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared the Contempt of Court Act (CoCA) 2012, passed recently by Parliament, as null and void. Though several legal and constitutional experts, including some from the ruling party, had expected that some parts of the law would be struck down, the court declared the entire legislation as unconstitutional and non-existent.

The short order issued by the five-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, “heard 27 identical petitions” filed against the law for 10 days and eventually scrapped it on Friday. It also revived the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 with effect from July 12, 2012 (the day when the new law was enforced). The situation is, therefore, back to square one when Yousuf Raza Gilani was disqualified as Prime Minister for disobeying the court order to write a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen graft cases against President Asif Zardari.

Now, Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf is facing the same situation as Gilani. As the next hearing is on August 8, the PM will have to clarify whether or not he would ask the Swiss authorities to reopen the cases. In case he complies with the court’s ruling, perhaps, then the mechanism to pursue the matter further would be decided.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has already made clear that its purpose is not to target any individual; it is just to reopen the money laundering cases so that the looted national wealth is returned to the people of Pakistan.

As far as the PPP-led coalition government is concerned, it seems that there is no hope for the better. The President of Pakistan and PPP Co-Chairman, Asif Zardari, chaired an emergency meeting comprising heads of allied parties along with the PM to analyse the situation arising out of the court verdict of striking down the contempt law and decide the next step his government would take before Raja meets the same fate as Gilani. The former Prime Minister had presented himself before the court, which convicted him for contempt till its rising (i.e. 30 seconds). The Gilani government did not appeal against the punishment awarded and so the verdict remains unchallenged.

Now it remains to be seen how PM Raja will respond on August 8. According to some analysts, it is expected that he will not appear before the court. So what is the court likely to do? Perhaps, give him more time and asks him to ensure that he is present on the next one. But what will be the court’s decision if he does not appear again on the pretext of either being out of the city or state?

According to the media, the government and its allies have decided to file a review petition against the Friday verdict. Indeed, this is a constitutional right of the aggrieved party, which the court cannot outrightly reject. In addition, the government has already decided to introduce another bill in Parliament to protect the Prime Minister from prosecution. However, this confusion may clear by August 8 or soon thereafter.

Needless to say, the government and people are presently in the grip of aftermath of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). The question, however, is: did the authors of the NRO ever think about the grave consequences it will have for Pakistan and the people?

The writer is President of the Pakistan National Forum.

Email: ikramullahkhan1@yahoo.com