THE end of the so-called Swiss letter saga has come in the softest possible way. Buried in the avalanche of news from the US presidential election, the government announced that the letter demanded by the court and finally agreed to by the government has been dispatched to Switzerland. The good news is that a crisis between the government and the judiciary that at times threatened to derail the transition to democracy has been defused ahead of the next election cycle. The bad news is the toll it has taken since December 2009, when the NRO judgment was handed down. Most notably, gone is the unanimously elected prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, a sacrifice that seems ever more inexplicable on the part of the PPP given that the letter was eventually written. For the longest time it appeared that the PPP had settled on a political strategy to fight its legal troubles with the court. Why that was the strategy has never been fully explained. After all, even veteran PPP leaders with legal and political experience had argued, mostly privately but sometimes publicly, that writing the letter to Swiss authorities would have little to no impact on the legal status of Mr Zardari’s presidency.
The educated guess — though, admittedly, based on multiple presumptions with little real evidence — was that the PPPs strategy of defiance was linked to political calculations: yielding too quickly on the Swiss letter could have opened the floodgates to all manner of other legal headaches for the government, while not yielding had the benefit of bringing into question the court’s motives and perpetuating the myth that a PPP government always finds itself under extreme, and unjustifiable, pressure from the establishment. In hindsight, however, there is a sense that perhaps it was as much incomprehension and incompetence that propelled the PPPs strategy of defiance as opposed to shrewd political manoevrings. The party leadership under President Zardari has shown an uncanny ability for political survival but perhaps not so much for the nuances of institutional strengthening. Virtually forcing the Supreme Court to take a tougher stance, sacrificing a prime minister, and playing to the political gallery with hard-hitting comments — there were more sophisticated ways of engineering a compromise, even if Mr Zardari’s eye was on running down the clock on the statute of limitations in Switzerland.
Nevertheless, a soft end to a dispute that once loomed ominously over the political landscape is something to be thankful for. Have lessons been learned by both the PPP and the court? The country will only know when the next confrontation erupts. Perhaps with experience will come maturity.