Pakistani dailies wonder about Swiss letter saga

What next, wondered Pakistani dailies Tuesday after Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf got three more weeks to write to Swiss authorities to reopen corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. 

One leading daily described it as a "pitiful sideshow" while another said the apex court was "trying its best to avoid being pushed into a corner where it will be held directly or indirectly responsible for any destabilisation of the system".

Ashraf Monday appeared before the Supreme Court, which adjourned the hearing till Sep 18. 

An editorial in the Dawn said: "From high drama to low farce, on and on rumbles the saga of the Swiss letter."

"Sep 18 is the new deadline, a day that will mark the fifth time a prime minister will appear before the Supreme Court this year. And yet, there is no sign of the letter being written, nor of the court surrendering to the logic of elections and the democratic project. 

"The extraordinary has become the new normal and it has reached the point where even the media and the public cannot really muster much interest," it said.

Stating that the "three-ring circus of spectacular proportions has degenerated into an almost pitiful sideshow", the daily noted: "Perhaps in this clash of institutions and rhetoric, the present impasse is the least bad of outcomes: the two sides have not budged from their original positions but then neither side has launched a truly destabilising attack on the other."

The daily also spoke of a rumour that the government is contemplating a spring election, which means that the country is "on the cusp of a pre-election interim set-up. In that may lie the way out for everyone".

"However, already the next question looms: what will the interim prime minister do about the small matter of a letter to Switzerland?"

The News International in its editorial pointed out that there was clearly a change in form, even if not in substance, on both sides in the Supreme Court Monday.  "The prime minister showed deference to the bench to the point of being obsequious while the no-nonsense Justice Asif Khosa appeared to be bending over backwards to convince the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) that the court would address all the ‘legitimate concerns’ of the government pertaining to the possible fallout that writing the Swiss letter could have for President Zardari," it said. 

It also noted that the "court did not appear in any hurry to prosecute and punish Prime Minister Ashraf". 

"...the court is cognisant of the political implications of a decision to send another PM packing and is trying its best to avoid being pushed into a corner where it will be held directly or indirectly responsible for any destabilisation of the system as an unintended consequence of such an act," the editorial added.

The daily hoped that the prime minister "will be able to convince his party co-chairman to place the national interest above individual apprehensions".
 "Of course, there is always the option of confrontation and disobedience and, going by the PPP’s track record, the possibility of it choosing to seek electoral salvation through judicial confrontation cannot be ruled out. But this would prove a most unfortunate choice for the country and for its fledgling democracy," it added.

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