A Pakistani court on Wednesday set September 5 as the deadline for President Asif Ali Zardari to disassociate himself from political activities and warned that he would have to face the consequences if he failed to do so.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial of the Lahore high court asked the President to relinquish his post of chief of the ruling Pakistan People's Party.
A short order issued by the bench in the evening said that if the President failed to act on the high court's order of last year not to engage in political activities in the presidency by September 5, then the court might initiate contempt of court proceedings against him.
Chief Justice Bandial said the issue had constitutional importance and the court's verdict was in accordance with the Constitution. He said the court has provided the President ample time to resign from his post of co-chairman of the PPP and to suspend all political activities in the presidency.
Earlier in the day, the bench had said it would give another opportunity to the President to act on its order to dissociate himself from political activities. The bench made the observation in response to two petitions filed against Zardari for not quitting the political office of co-chairman of the PPP.
The bench noted that the high court had issued an order on May 12, 2011 that said it expected the President to disassociate himself from political activities as soon as possible.
The court asked the petitioners whether the President had any immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution. A K Dogar, the counsel for one of the petitioners, claimed the President had no immunity in civil cases. Dogar is also the lawyer for Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed.
Dogar said the court should summon Zardari to explain his position just as the Supreme Court had summoned former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani in a recent contempt of court case.
Muhammad Azhar Siddique, the counsel for the other petitioner, argued that Zardari had not disassociated himself from political activities.
He claimed directions issued by the high court in May last year had not been obeyed and the president had not stopped 'misusing' the presidency for the activities of the PPP.
The two lawyers said the constitution stated that the president should be impartial and non-political. If the president did not act in an impartial manner, then action could be taken against him, they said.