The apex court had sought changes in a draft letter that was presented yesterday by Law Minister Farooq Naek. When the hearing resumed today, a five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa objected to the revised draft presented by Naek for not mentioning the restoration of the cases against Zardari.
Naek asked the judges to conduct the hearing in their chambers as he wished to raise certain "sensitive issues" that could not be discussed in an open courtroom. The judges initially refused, but later agreed to hear Naek in their chambers after conferring among themselves.
The Law Minister was called to the chambers for consultations behind closed doors. Once the hearing resumed, Naek sought time from the court till Oct 5 to resolve all issues raised by the judges.
The bench said if the government does not comply with the apex court's order to finalise the letter to be sent to the Swiss authorities by Oct 5, the court will be compelled to resume the contempt of court proceedings against Ashraf.
The judges said the court was giving the government a final opportunity to draft the letter. During his appearance in court on Sept 18, Ashraf said the government would send a letter to Swiss authorities to revoke another official communication sent in 2007 to close the graft cases against Zardari.
The Premier said it would be up to the Swiss authorities to decide whether the cases against Zardari should be revived. The Supreme Court has been pressuring the government to revive the cases against the President since Dec 2009, when it struck down a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf that benefited Zardari and over 8,000 others.
The government has refused to act so far, saying the President enjoys immunity in Pakistan and abroad. Ashraf is the second premier to appear in the Supreme Court to face a contempt charge for refusing to revive the cases against Zardari.
His predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was convicted of contempt and disqualified in June. Talking to reporters after today's hearing, Law Minister Naek said the bench had made some observations and he had sought more time to resolve issues as he had to consult the Prime Minister.
He contended there was "no bone of contention" between the government and the apex court.
"A solution will be found keeping in mind the observations of the judges. A solution will be found to the issue according to the law and the Constitution," he said.
Naek cautioned that "some forces wanted to take advantage of the issue and derail democracy." Some media reports suggested differences had emerged within the five-judge bench on the issue of the President's immunity but Naek said he had "no knowledge of any differences."
Attorney General Irfan Qadir, the government's top law officer, maintained that the Constitution gives immunity to the President and that "there is no need to ask for" immunity from the apex court.