The letter in French received by the Pakistani government from Swiss authorities last week has finally ended a long ordeal for President Asif Zardari.
At least that will be the case as long as he remains in office.
The flat response from the Swiss authorities not only drove home the point about there being no two ways about a fundamental law governing international immunity for heads of state but also brought into sharp focus the apparent overreach the apex court had exercised in dealing with the matter.
The so-called Swiss case pertains to charges of money laundering against the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader for allegedly receiving kickbacks in the award of a pre-shipment contract to a Swiss company in 1994.
The case has been futile save for a solitary conviction that was set aside in 2003 because the supposed evidential documents presented in the case were not original.
Frozen assets worth $60 million were released when the conviction was set aside.
The fractious stand-off between the PPP government and the superior judiciary for a good three years saw the country's first unanimously elected prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani ousted last June for refusing to write a letter against his own president to the Swiss authorities to reopen the case that had been withdrawn by Islamabad in 2007.
The closure had been requested by the-then Attorney General Malik Qayyum on the orders of President General Pervez Musharraf following a future power-sharing deal with self-exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in the summer of 2007.
The development was replete with ironies. The case had been pursued vigorously by Musharraf to have the Zardari-Bhutto couple convicted — initially with the intention to drive them out of politics, and later, to improve his bargaining power once the Bush Administration pushed for the dream team of Musharraf (as president) and Benazir (as prime minister) to pursue Washington's war-on-terror.
Still more ironical was the request for withdrawal made by Attorney General Malik Qayyum, a former judge of the Lahore High Court, infamous for the so-called 'tape scandal' which revealed his insidious role in fixing Bhutto's conviction at the behest of arch rival Nawaz Sharif, the-then prime minister whose government had initiated the case in the first place.
The conviction was set aside, forcing the disgraced Qayyum to resign.
Initially, on the basis of non-original documents, the Swiss magistrate had awarded a sentence of up to six months to the Zardari-Bhutto couple in July 2003, which was later set aside on their appeal three months later.
The same case was revived however when Bhutto began to push for return home from self-exile against Musharraf's wishes.
The strongman wanted the Zardari-Bhutto couple convicted by Swiss courts. Geneva's Court of Appeal allowed Musharraf's accountability deputy to represent Pakistan as it initiated criminal proceedings against the couple on charges of money laundering.
The script however, went awry when a sleuth, Rana Abdul Rahim, who had earlier exposed the Qayyum tape scandal expressed his willingness to appear before the Swiss court as a witness.
Sensing that the Swiss episode might meet the same end that cases in Pakistan had because of lack of incriminating evidence, especially after the emergence of Rahim, Musharraf's man was forced to retreat. Attorney General Malik Qayyum had the displeasure of writing to the Swiss courts to withdraw the cases.
However, this U-turn was not without its share of machinations either. By asking the top law officer to write the letter, the General was showing Bhutto that he was following on the deal with her but by withdrawing the cases he wanted to publicly tarnish her image. Subsequently, the decades old corruption cases against Bhutto and her spouse as well as thousands of other politicians were quashed under the so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by Musharraf as part of the power-sharing deal with her.
However, the superior judiciary, which was sacked by Musharraf, who feared it would declare his re-election bid in military uniform void, returned in 2009 on the back of a popular movement which forced President Zardari to reinstate it after he had reneged on his earlier promise to do so.
When a petition was filed in the case, the Supreme Court declared the NRO null and void, directing the PPP government to reopen the graft case against its own president by writing a letter to the Swiss authorities.
The government dithered and dodged — even losing its prime minister in the bargain after he was convicted for contempt of court and de-seated for refusing to write the letter — before finally relenting last year. The apex court itself vetted the draft before approving it.
The writer is freelance journalist based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.