Pakistan judicial commission to probe memo scandal

AP News
Posted: Dec 30, 2011 11:35 AM
Pakistan judicial commission to probe memo scandal

Pakistan's Supreme Court set up a judicial commission Friday to investigate a secret memo scandal that threatens the government, lawyers said, dealing a blow to the country's leaders, who have argued that such a probe is unnecessary.

The government has suggested its opponents on the Supreme Court, in the military and in the political opposition are using the scandal to try to topple the country's leadership.

The crisis comes at a time when Pakistan is facing rampant insurgent violence, a stuttering economy and troubled relations with its most important ally, the United States.

A car bomb exploded outside the home of a local politician in southwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing nine people and wounding 21 others, said police.

The current political scandal centers on a memo sent in May to U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff at the time, asking for help in stopping a supposed army coup following the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The scandal first erupted in October when Mansoor Ijaz, a U.S. businessman of Pakistani origin, wrote a column in the Financial Times claiming Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, crafted the memo and asked him to send it. Ijaz also claimed the memo had the support of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Both Haqqani and Zardari have denied the allegations, but the envoy resigned in the wake of the scandal.

The army, which has denied it ever intended to carry out a coup, was outraged by the memo and supported the Supreme Court's investigation.

The government argued that a court probe was unnecessary because parliament was the more appropriate forum and was already looking into the matter.

"This is the most disappointing judgment," said Haqqani's lawyer, Asma Jehangir, after the Supreme Court ruling. "National security has been given priority over human rights."

There is long-standing tension between Pakistan's military and its civilian leadership because the army has staged a series of coups and ruled the country for much of its 64-year history.

The Supreme Court decided to set up a three-judge commission to investigate the memo scandal in response to a petition filed by a group of opposition politicians, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The commission will be led by the chief justice of the Baluchistan high court, Qazi Faez Isa, and must deliver its report within four weeks, said Zafar Ullah, Sharif's lawyer.

"We should have trust and confidence in this commission," said Ishaq Dar, a member of Sharif's political party and another one of the petitioners.

The court also instructed Pakistan's attorney general, Anwarul Haq, to confirm the veracity of a series of Blackberry Messenger messages that Ijaz submitted between him and Haqqani that he claims back up his allegations against the former envoy. Haq was directed to contact the maker of Blackberry devices, Research in Motion.

Haqqani's legal team has argued that the Blackberry messages are irrelevant because they do not specifically mention the memo.

Former U.S. national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, who acted as an intermediary between Ijaz and Mullen, has said in a sworn affidavit delivered to the court that he had no reason to believe that Haqqani had anything to do with the memo. He also said that he didn't find the memo "credible" and questioned why Ijaz would deliver it.

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Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Dawn newspaper, said the Supreme Court's decision Friday wasn't a surprise, and unless the commission unearthed something dramatically new, the scandal could just fade away.

The worst case scenario for the government would be evidence linking the president to the memo, Almeida told The Associated Press. But even then, Zardari would enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution while in office, and impeaching the president would be difficult given the large number of seats his party has in parliament, he said.

"It doesn't look right now like the commission will be used to undermine the government to the point of where it has to go," said Almeida.

Friday's car bombing targeted the home of local politician Shafique Mengal in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, but he escaped unhurt, said police officer Nazir Ahmed Kurd.

Mengal is the son of Naseer Mengal, a prominent politician who served as oil minister during the tenure of former President Pervez Musharraf.

Baluchistan has experienced a violent insurgency for decades by nationalists who demand more autonomy and a greater share of the province's natural resources.

Also Friday, a bomb exploded outside a market in the northwest Bajur tribal area, killing two people, including an anti-Taliban militia member, said Tariq Khan, a local government administrator.


Associated Press writers Sebastian Abbot in Islamabad, Abdul Sattar in Quetta and Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.