ISLAMABAD: With only four weeks to complete investigations, time is of the essence for a judicial commission formed to probe the Memogate scandal.
Day one of the commission’s proceedings, held at the Islamabad High Court building, saw a flurry of activity – portraying the sense of pressure involved in the exercise.
Headed by Balochistan High Court (BHC) Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa, the three-member commission gave a number of orders and sent out a spate of notices to all respondents of the case for January 9.
Within this time, it has sought the equipment used to communicate over, and then send, the memo in question and also ordered that message records be requested from Research in Motion (RIM) – the Canada-based service provider of BlackBerry Messenger, through which Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz and former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani allegedly exchanged messages regarding the memo.
In the meantime, it has summoned the two for the next date of hearing, too.
It was also ordered that a notice be issued, through the interior secretary, to the local representative of RIM to provide an expert who will be able to recover and decode data from the equipment used by the two. On the other hand, to verify the authenticity of the data, the commission has sought assistance from the ministry of information technology and Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA).
The commission directed the cabinet secretary Nargis Sethi to appoint a secretary as the commission’s focal person to ensure immediate compliance of commission’s directives – given the short timeframe it has to complete investigations.
Meanwhile, it has summoned Haqqani on the next date of hearing and repeated notices to all respondents of the case.
The first day’s proceedings, attended by the Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Maulvi Anwarul Haq, the cabinet and foreign secretaries as well as a representative of the ministry of foreign affairs Sher Bahadur Khan, also saw a number of issues come to light.
Foremost among these was how to treat former US national security adviser James Jones, the man who delivered the controversial memo, and the then US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen, who is the supposed addressee of the document. The court inquired whether Jones ought to be treated as a witness or a party to the case.
According to the AGP, both Jones and Ijaz had been sent notices through the Pakistani mission in Washington – however he cannot confirm whether the two have received the notices. Sher Bahadur Khan assured the commission that the same route was used to deliver the court’s notices earlier, and both had responded.
About Mullen, the AGP contended that the former US military chief was not witness hence he did not need to be sent a notice — however, he can be summoned if required or if he wanted to record his statement. The AGP also said that any other person who wants to record their statement before the commission should be allowed to – even if it is in-camera. However, Justice Isa said that the proceedings should be open to dispel any misgivings – but added that any specific requests for an in-camera statement can be considered.
Justice Isa also had a number of questions for the foreign office. To a query, Bashir said that the foreign office had not conducted any in-house inquiry into the matter. Bashir was also asked if the ambassadors’ daily appointments and meetings are recorded – to which he replied in the affirmative, adding that periodic reports in this regard are prepared.
On whether such a report was compiled for Haqqani, Bashir said that he could find out – and added that Haqqani himself would be a good person to be asked this question.
Haqqani himself was not present during Monday’s proceedings – nor was any lawyer there on his behalf, given that his previous counsel Asma Jahangir had resigned in protest over the Supreme Court’s decision to form this commission. The AGP said that notices had been sent to all concerned parties for Monday’s proceedings.
The commission said that if Haqqani could not appear in person, he should hire a lawyer immediately.
Justice Isa said that the Supreme Court had already explained the scope of the commission in its order, and the commission could not keep sending notices since the apex court had given them only four weeks to conclude proceedings.
The next date of proceedings is January 9.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2012.