In a hard-hitting speech, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Tuesday said that the judiciary should be made accountable for former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's case and disqualifying two ex-chief executives — Nawaz Sharif and Yousuf Raza Gilani — from holding public office.
He blasted the judiciary while addressing the National Assembly session amid fears of contempt proceedings against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in the backdrop of ongoing tension between the government and judiciary over multiple issues — including the date of holding the election.
Asif's statement came hours after Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial remarked that the political parties wanted to “pick and choose" the bench for "desired judgements".
The top judge passed the remarks as the Supreme Court resumed hearing the petitions challenging the law clipping his office's powers.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif stepped down as the prime minister in July 2017 after being disqualified from holding public office by the top court in a landmark decision on the infamous Panama Papers case.
Announcing its historic verdict, the five-member bench unanimously disqualified the three-time prime minister for failing to disclose his un-withdrawn receivables constituting assets from UAE-based Capital FZE in his nominations papers for the 2013 General Election, stating that this meant he was not ‘honest’ and ‘truthful’, as per the Constitution.
Similarly, the apex court, in June 2012, had disqualified Pakistan Peoples Party’s Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani as the prime minister in the NA Speaker ruling case.
"Yousuf Raza Gilani is disqualified from membership of parliament from April 26, the date of his conviction. He has also ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan," said then-chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, reading the order.
"We are holding dialogue with our opponents but it does not come in the precinct of the court to dictate us for negotiations," Khawaja Asif said.
A house committee, he further added, should also be constituted to examine the cases decided by the judiciary in the past. He said the facts should come before the masses.
The defence minister went on to say that the government respects the top court but it should operate within its constitutional domain. He added that parliament is the supreme institution and being a defender of the Constitution will not allow any extra-constitutional step.
The senior leader of the PML-N said that parliament will not surrender its authority. “We should get united for the sanctity and dignity of the house by rising above our differences.”
The elected representatives come to parliament with the mandate of the people, he said, adding that the foundation of their career is based on public service.
Speaking on the occasion, the federal minister also asserted that the tradition of sacrificing prime ministers on the altar of justice should come to an end. “We should protect our [every] prime minister irrespective of his political affiliation,” he added.
“We confess our crimes but what will the Supreme Court do to clear its past,” asked the defence minister.