Battle Eases Between Pakistani Government and High Court

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A longstanding legal battle between the Pakistani government and the country's assertive Supreme Court appears to have run its course after both sides came closer to a face-saving settlement on Wednesday.

A five-member Supreme Court bench, led by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, on Wednesday approved the draft of a letter to be written to the authorities in Switzerland that could theoretically revive corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari dating from the 1990s in that country.

The Supreme Court has pressed the government since 2009 to write the letter, also known here as the Swiss letter, and until September the governing Pakistan Peoples Party showed absolute defiance to the court pressure. The bitter standoff resulted in the firing of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani by the court in June after he refused to write the letter, citing international immunity for the president.

The conflict further threatened to throw Pakistan's fragile democracy into turmoil. But a reversal in the government's position, and an accommodative response by the court, has diluted the prospects of more perilous infighting between the two institutions, analysts here said.

Last month, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told the court that the government was willing to obey its order and tasked the law minister to write a letter to the court's liking.

Farooq H. Naek, the Pakistani law minister, announced the court's approval of the letter after a hearing Wednesday morning in the white marbled court building in Islamabad, the capital. A beaming Mr. Naek told reporters that Mr. Zardari would not face a trial in Switzerland as there were no case against him back in the country.  

Officials in Switzerland have been quoted as saying that cases against Mr. Zardari would be revived there only if corruption cases against him were under way in Pakistan. Swiss legal experts say that the recent expiration of a statute of limitation on the charges in Switzerland and Mr. Zardari's presidential immunity, the chances of a new prosecution are slim, at least while Mr. Zardari remains in office.

"There was no case there in the past, there is no case now and nor will there be any case there in the future; hence a trial is out of the question," Mr. Naek said.  He said the government would send the letter to Swiss officials in four weeks and apprise the court about developments in the next hearing of the case, scheduled for Nov. 15.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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