All eyes are already focused on the Supreme Court for Monday morning when the judiciary resumes hearing the all-important cases of the 18th Amendment, implementation of its judgment on the NRO, appointment of NRO beneficiaries at key posts and missing people. Each one of them has a bearing on the survival of the PPP-led political dispensation.
The fireworks are predicted to start in the courtroom where a summary prepared by the law ministry and approved by the prime minister will be presented.
It says that the government cannot comply with SC’s directive of writing to the Swiss authorities to reopen a case against President Asif Zardari because he enjoys immunity under Article 248(2) of the Constitution.
Part of the tense drama, however, will be played out at a meeting between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, set for the afternoon and a dinner hosted by President Zardari for all PPP MNAs and senators.
SC’s renewed attention to implementation of the NRO verdict, particularly reopening of the Swiss case, appears to have started to get on the nerves of the Pakistan People’s Party leadership.
This much was evident from recent statements by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and outbursts of certain PPP leaders, including some cabinet members, against the judiciary.
Only this can explain Saturday’s statement by defence production minister Abdul Qayyum Jatoi who, perhaps after getting encouragement from his leaders, went to the extent of harshly criticising the chief justice and the army and ended up losing his cabinet position.
Despite the prime minister’s decisive step to reprimand and sack Mr Jatoi, he spent most of the past week defending the party position of protecting President Zardari — even at the cost of his government.
More than once, he openly questioned SC’s powers to amend the Constitution. Speaking in the National Assembly, he categorically stated that the government “will respect the decisions of the judiciary but within the limits of the 1973 Constitution”.
And for those who may still have some doubts about his mood, he threw the proverbial gauntlet in the Senate on Friday, when he declared that parliament had given powers to institutions, including immunity to the president, through the Constitution and only it could withdraw these.
But his words were not accepted quietly; these merely added to the intensity of the battle of nerves already playing out.
Before long, Prime Minister Gilani’s words were contested by the opposition PML-N’s chief Nawaz Sharif who said the SC had the power to interpret the article of the Constitution dealing with the president’s immunity.
Mr Sharif, whose party had voted for the 18th Amendment currently under scrutiny at the apex court, declared that his party would side with the SC in the event of a confrontation between the judiciary and the government.
This appeared to have no impact on Mr Gilani; talking to a select group of TV anchors on Sunday evening, he ruled out any change in the present set-up though he did express the hope that the SC would not create an atmosphere of instability while delivering verdicts in the important cases.
In a bid to sound confident and in charge of the situation, he told those present that he had held a meeting with the chief justice recently.
When some TV channels relayed this report, a spokesman for the Supreme Court clarified that “no formal meeting” had taken place between the two and that the chief justice and the prime minister had only exchanged Eid greetings. It turned out that the prime minister was referring to his Eid day embrace with the chief justice at Faisal Mosque.
The prime minister also disclosed that he had talked to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif over telephone to discuss the situation.
However, the prime minister’s multiple media appearances and condiment assertions did not stop the electronic media from spending the entire evening conjecturing what bouts of instability or worse the new week would bring.
That the government may also share some of this apprehension is obvious from the measures being considered by the PPP.
The party leadership was contemplating getting resolutions adopted by the National Assembly, the Senate and all the four provincial assemblies saying that President Zardari enjoyed immunity under the Constitution.
However, a group within the party was opposed to this idea; in their opinion the step could worsen the already tense relationship between the judiciary and the government. Moreover, the party was also not sure of the support of some of its allies.
In fact, it is believed that the prime minister had contacted the Punjab chief minister to discuss the plan with him and to seek his help.