ISLAMABAD: The counsel for the main accused has quit, citing foul play, while the government is considering a pardon if a verdict of treason is reached. Memogate, essentially, has only just begun.
As the Supreme Court-appointed judicial commission prepares to begin criminal investigations into the controversy, the government is contemplating an aggressive approach to defend former ambassador Husain Haqqani.
“We will go to any extent to defend him because we believe he hasn’t done anything against the national security of Pakistan,” said a top official, who attended a preparatory meeting of the government’s top legal brains on Sunday.
Amongst the options considered at the unofficial, unannounced meeting was a proposal that President Asif Zardari would pardon Haqqani if the Supreme Court convicts him in the light of the commission’s findings.
“This is the decision … we have pulled up our sleeves and are getting ready for a bitter fight,” said the official, apparently setting up an even fiercer confrontation between the civilian and military leadership.
The pardon, he added, was a presidential right under Article 45 of the Constitution. However, he did not comment on the difficulties inherent in letting off a person convicted of high treason – Haqqani’s possible fate.
To reduce the political magnitude of such a move, an option being considered is that the president could travel abroad for a couple of days, and in his absence the acting president would announce the pardon.
Asked if the government was already anticipating a hostile decision, the official said: “There is no doubt about that … it is obvious. We think the verdict may already be ready.” This view seems to back up the general impression in the government that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is manipulating the Supreme Court and its investigations.
There was a hint of the government’s plan in the refusal of Asma Jehangir, the defence council for Haqqani, to appear before the commission, after she expressed fears that the ISI might influence the body to get the result it wants.
“I don’t trust the commission constituted by the court,” Jehangir told The Express Tribune. “I will not plead my client’s case. Haqqani will hire the services of another senior lawyer. I recommended him,” she said.
Other options the government is considering are to defend Haqqani before the commission as aggressively as possible, or to attempt to extend the process beyond the 40-day deadline given by the apex court.
If the commission’s proceedings are not completed by March, when elections for the Senate seats are scheduled, the government believes the issue might die down due to the political focus being elsewhere. Haqqani, on his part, will seek more time from the commission to prepare his case, one of his close friends said.
Haqqani might also take the position that he and his family have been threatened by ‘invisible forces’ since the scandal surfaced. Jehangir also clearly suspected the role of the ISI in the entire episode. “Invisible forces want their desired judgment. So, I don’t want to waste my time by preparing the case,” she said, adding that the law was being used to transform the country into a ‘security state’.
Meanwhile, the government’s legal team, through its high commission in Canada, has contacted the mobile company, Research in Motion, to ascertain the authenticity of the electronic communications exchanged between Mansoor Ijaz and Haqqani
On Monday (today), the judicial commission will prepare a schedule for interviews and other activities in its investigation. “Notices will be issued to all the respondents to clarify their position. The respondents will either appear in person or with their counsels to present their case before the powerful commission,” said an official associated with the commission.
The secretary of the commission, after consultation with all three chief justices, will examine the possibilities of inviting foreigners for interviews to examine the evidence, the official added.
Barrister Zafarullah Khan, a petitioner in the memo case, said that the commission will have the full backing of the Supreme Court. After completing its investigation within a month, the commission will submit its report to the chief justice of Pakistan, he added.
Advocate Tariq Asad, who also filed a petition for the memo case, said that the nine-member bench could write a new chapter in the history of the judiciary. “If [Balochistan High Court] Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa summons me for assisting the commission I will appear with some more evidence to justify my stance against the respondents,” he said.
He’ll have to wait and see – as will we all.
(Read: SC verdict on memogate)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2012.