Pak SC headed for confrontation with govt

Islamabad: Pakistan`s Supreme Court today appeared headed for a confrontation with the government, with a bench headed by the Chief Justice expressing its displeasure at the remarks of federal ministers on its handling of a case related to the memogate scandal.

A nine-judge bench led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, which is hearing a batch of petitions seeking a probe into the alleged memo sent to the US military chief in May, asked Attorney General Anwar-ul-Haq whether former minister Babar Awan had represented the federal government when he made potentially derogatory remarks against the judiciary.

The chief Justice noted that President Asif Ali Zardari, one of the 10 respondents in the case, had not filed his reply within a deadline set by the court or denied the allegations in the petitions. He said the failure to deny the allegations was tantamount to accepting the charges.

The Supreme Court took up the petitions on December 1 and formed a commission to probe the alleged memo that had sought US help to prevent a feared military coup in Pakistan after the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

In their replies to the court, Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha called for a probe into the matter as it involved national security.

However, the government said in its response that the apex court should dismiss the petitions as a parliamentary commission had been tasked to investigate the memogate scandal.

The government also challenged the court`s jurisdiction to take up the issue.

On December 1, top leaders of the ruling Pakistan People`s Party questioned the court`s decision to set up a commission to probe the memo issue, saying only the executive had the power to appoint such a panel.

PPP lawmaker Babar Awan, a close aide of President Zardari, expressed disappointment at the court`s order.

Addressing a news conference with Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan, Religious Affairs Minister Khurshid Shah and PPP spokesman Qamar Zaman Kaira, Awan had contended that the apex court had issued its order without giving the federal government an opportunity to present its views.

During today`s proceedings, Chief Justice Chaudhry observed that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani should have taken notice of Babar Awan`s criticism of the judiciary. He said the government functionaries had ridiculed the judiciary in flagrant violation of the dignity of the court.

The bench asked the Attorney General to ascertain from the Prime Minister whether action would be taken against the PPP leaders for the views they had expressed.

The court also sought the views of the respondents on the replies submitted by the army and ISI chiefs and Mansoor Ijaz, the Pakistani-American businessman who made the memo public and adjourned the case till Thursday.

In the recent past, the apex court has repeatedly pressured the government to reopen corruption cases that were closed under a graft amnesty issued by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

The court has already scrapped the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which was used to close graft cases against over 8,000 people, including President Zardari.

The government has not taken any action so far to reopen cases of alleged money laundering that were filed against Zardari in Switzerland. Presidential aides have said that Zardari enjoys immunity from prosecution.