Pak Chief Justice denies exemption to Zardari

Islamabad: Pakistan Supreme Court has told the government that President Asif Ali Zardari cannot avoid proceedings in the Memogate case by presuming that he enjoys immunity under the Constitution.

"Immunity does not come into play by itself. It will have to be sought (from the court)," Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry sternly told Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq on Thursday, reminding him of the court order seeking the president`s reply, The Express Tribune Daily said.

Article 248 of the Pakistani Constitution almost gives immunity to the President from court proceedings.

The nine-judge bench also asked the attorney general to ensure the federal government submits responses to the replies of army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Director General of ISI Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz and former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani.

Haq explained that he was in the process of filing the affidavits sought by the court and would require till Friday (today) to submit the federal government`s reply.

President Zardari is yet to file his reply to a series of petitions being heard by the apex court in connection with the Memogate scandal that has brought out the fissures between the government and the powerful security establishment.

The bench suggested nominating a sitting judge of the Supreme Court to probe the scandal, but shelved it after Asma Jehangir, Haqqani`s counsel, raised objections, the report said. Referring to the political overtones of the case, Jehangir said the scandal raised several questions: Who leaked the memo, what was its background and were the rumours of a coup true?

She added that Ijaz`s claim that the ISI and the army were hatching conspiracies against the government should not be ignored. The Chief Justice observed the court had been mindful of the maintainability of the petitions but it could also not ignore the element of "civil liability and criminal culpability" in the case.

Both Pakistani government and the powerful security establishment have taken directly opposite stand in the case. While the government does not want the apex court to order any probe saying it will do the same, the army and the ISI want the Supreme Court to go in for a thorough investigation.

The scandal revolves around a secret memo that had sought the US help to prevent a possible coup in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in May. The government has said that Zardari or Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had played no role in drafting or delivering the memo to the then US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen.