Memo and NRO cases gone in hibernation
"Justice delayed is justice denied, Honourable Chief Justice. Why the punishments could not be handed down and much earlier? The nation is disappointed after so much of hype, everyone is holding judiciary responsible for this." Raja Mujtaba
By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
The dawn of 2012 heralded political fireworks and clash of institutions. Clashes were a carry forward of 2011 in which Abbottabad Commission investigating the US helicopters assault on 2 May, memo scandal and NRO review case kept the nation busy. Memo scandal in particular was more enthralling since it got connected with 2 May episode. The chief actor Mansoor Ijaz whose story in Financial Times on 10 October set the ball rolling kept the people captivated. It became so dangerous for some that it created misunderstandings between institutions and a virtual standoff. The three titans which remained at odds with each other were Gilani led government, Supreme Court (SC) and the GHQ. The defiance of PPP government tested the limits of patience of SC.
The government has been chiefly responsible for creating an atmosphere of tension and friction since in its bid to wriggle out of the two volatile cases of memo and NRO, it chose to adopt the path of confrontation rather than submitting to the court directives. Without giving any logical reasons, at the very outset it considered memo affair a non-issue, a ‘pack of lies’ and felt upset that the SC instead of throwing it in a dustbin had taken up the case too seriously. It derided Nawaz Sharif for taking up memo case with SC. It considered Mansoor Ijaz as a man of ill repute who couldn’t be relied upon. Some called him CIA man and few crazy ones saw him as an ISI agent despite the fact that he has written dozens of articles against the military.
For unknown reasons the PPP top leadership got frightened by memo judicial commission and to undermine it, Gilani hurriedly established a Parliamentary Committee on National Security to probe memo case. Knowing that it has no expertise and means to investigate suchlike cases and also is devoid of legal authority to summon foreigners, President Zardari blatantly stated that he would accept the verdict of Parliamentary Committee only. He and Gilani didn’t explain as to why they showed no-confidence in judiciary and over-confidence in parliamentary committee.
With regard to NRO issue, in response to SC verdict declaring it null and void, the government went in for review and kept dragging its feet for two years and two months to avoid implementing court orders to reopen all cases against NRO beneficiaries including President Zardari within and outside Pakistan. It defiantly maintained that Zardari enjoyed immunity not only from Pakistani courts but also from world courts irrespective of the nature of offence committed. Zardari said he would not allow trial of the tomb of his late wife. Neither Zardari, or Gilani or any PPP leader for once talked of the $60 million laundered money stashed in Swiss Banks.
In its efforts to bring the Army and ISI on its side to pressurize the judiciary, the government got highly disturbed when Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Pasha took a principled stand on memo asserting that it was real and must be probed. They took a principled stand so as to protect national security interests. Guilty of numerous crimes and misconduct, the top guns of PPP suffered from paranoia that their government will be removed by the military or by the judiciary. Despite repeated assurances by chief justice, army chief and opposition political leaders about the impossibility of martial law, they remain fearful of a military coup. It was probably this fear which propelled them to author memo in early May 2011.
Suspecting that the Army was getting aligned with judiciary to topple it and takeover, Gilani became aggressive and ruffled the feathers of Army/ISI leadership. Gilani phoned British High Commissioner to share his anxiety with him. In my reckoning, threat of coup was deliberately played up to distract the attention of the public from Memogate and NRO and to gain its sympathies because no source has given any clue of possibility of a coup. Gilani’s outbursts against the COAS and DG ISI and sacking of Secretary Defence were also motivated acts to put Army leadership on the back foot.
Like PPP led government, Nawaz led PML-N is equally apprehensive of military takeover. Nawaz’s misplaced apprehensions kept him in two minds whether to actively pursue or not to pursue memo case. Notwithstanding his craving for early elections getting materialized through memo, the very thought of Army taking over sent shivers down his spine, forcing him to revert to his friendly opposition posture. He preferred PPP completing its five year tenure over possibility of Army takeover.
No sooner Gilani realized that opening of two fronts had put his government in a logjam, he in consultation with Zardari and hawks within PPP decided to go on an offensive against both judiciary and Army and in the process get politically martyred preferably at the hands of Army. Such a suicidal course became necessary after the SC became pro-active on 10 January, giving six options to it as to why it should not proceed against the President, PM, Chairman NAB and other delinquent for their willful defiance. It gave 16 January as the cut out date for exercise of any of the options. In Commission’s reckoning, Gilani was the chief defaulter and was a fit case for getting indicted on charges of contempt of court. Gilani held a special session of National Assembly on 13 January to garner support of allied parties to confront the perceived twin threat, but to his disappointment, the heads of three allied parties suggested reconciliation over confrontation and mellowed down the resolution by stating that they supported continuation of democratic process.
Gilani then quickly changed his posture and decided to appear before SC in person. Escorted by his newly appointed advocate Aitzaz Ahsan as well as whole lot of governors, chief ministers, ministers of PPP and allied parties’, he appeared before the SC Commission with fanfare. Instead of apologizing for not implementing SC directive, Gilani spoke majestically asserting that the government wouldn’t write to foreign governments since President Zardari enjoyed complete immunity within and outside the country. PPP workers raised vociferous slogans outside the premises of SC but within the hearing reach of the Commission members. This high drama was played up to overawe the apex court. Visibly subdued court instead of announcing its decision changed the compass bearing of arguments from contempt to presidential immunity and gave 01 February as the next date of hearing.
Gilani walked out of the courtroom triumphantly like a conquering Moghul King. He won the day but at the cost of Aitzaz’s reputation. Lawyer’s movement hero Aitzaz was hooted at by legal fraternity and is now being seen with cynicism since he took a u-turn on his earlier stance that the government will have to write a letter to Swiss authorities to reopen money laundering cases that had been wrongly closed by former Attorney General Malik Qayum in 2008.
Having succeeded in scaling down the tension between government and judiciary, Gilani then hastened to mend fences with the Army/ISI leadership by eating his words and declaring that Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Pasha’s submission of affidavits to SC were neither unlawful nor unconstitutional. In order to dispel the impression about estrangement between him and the COAS or DG ISI, he first held defence committee meeting and then an exclusive meeting with the two generals and Foreign Minister to discuss Afghanistan situation prior to his visit to Kabul. He stated that news about sacking of the two generals was untrue.
Haqqani during his hearing before the three-member judicial commission on 9 January didn’t produce his vital Blackberry (BB) mobile sets stating that he had left them back in Washington. Unlike Mansoor Ijaz who has surrendered his privacy rights with Research & Motion (R&M) of BB, Haqqani has not done so. Noting that people were talking that he is deliberately hiding his BB sets, as an afterthought he gave a message to Pakistan Embassy in Washington to trace his mobile sets from his office and residence and send them to Pakistan. The latter couldn’t trace the phones since those were never there. After being placed on the exit control list he had tried to sneak out with ailing Zardari last month but he was pulled out of the helicopter at the 11th hour in spite of fuming Zardari desirous of taking him along to Dubai.
Gossipers are now saying that Zardari had feigned illness to let weak-nerve Haqqani escape since he feared that he may not spill the beans under slightest pressure, or may even become an approver. His wife Farahnaz Ispahani who is Zardari’s media adviser however managed to sneak out to Washington and zealously went about garnering support from western media and friends of Haqqani to get her husband released. She claimed that she slipped out because of fear that she would be kidnapped by ISI to force Haqqani to sign a confession and implicate the president. Her diatribe against Army/ISI was music to the ears of BBC, Sunday Times and Fox News.
Submission of petition by Haqqani asking the SC to review its decision of 30 December declaring the memo case as maintainable and appointing a three-member judicial commission, and requesting the court to stay the proceedings till its decision on his petition was a usual ploy to buy time. The PPP leaders involved in corruption managing to buy over two years of time on NRO are still indulging in delaying tactics. It must however be understood that NRO was related to corruption which could be prolonged, but memo being a case of treason against the state couldn’t be delayed under any circumstances. People were desperate to know whether their top leadership in its urge to stay in power conspired to seek foreign assistance to change the security apparatus and to hand over keys of nuclear arsenal.
Haqqani’s stance that the judicial commission was not permissible by law was preposterous. One wonders why like Zardari he placed so much faith in Parliamentary Committee investigating memo case and why he feared judicial commission comprising chief justices of three high courts. Instead of clearing his case through process of law, he started finding faults in the ones deputed to probe and find the truth.
Haqqani spoke of denial of fundamental rights, but forgot that rights don’t mean supping with enemies of Pakistan and conspiring to harm the country to which he owes allegiance. He had reasons to feel perturbed if he had been detained by a military dictator, or held in a safe house of SIB or ISI for interrogation, or tried by a military court. He started to wail when only preliminary investigations were being carried out by a judicial commission on express orders of SC Bench. So what was troubling Haqqani and Gilani and why so much of hullabaloo at a nascent stage? It was quite apparent that Gilani and his henchmen would go to any length to prevent the memo commission from ascertaining the truth since it would unmask those behind the Memogate.
Impediments were created to prevent Mansoor from coming to Pakistan to give his statement to the SC on 16 January. Government’s threatening and coercive tactics eventually paid off and Mansoor decided not to come on the appointed date for fear of being arrested or put on exit control list, or killed, or the incriminatory material in his possession snatched and destroyed. Although the Commission gave him a last chance to testify on 9 February, but he said that because of hostile environment he would be more comfortable to give his testimony at London or Zurich, or through skype.
Throughout his stay in Pakistan, Haqqani pretended to be innocent and wanted to be declared innocent without any probe. He forgot that he had earned poor reputation during his tenure as Ambassador since he had been promoting the US interests instead of protecting Pakistan’s interests. A chronic military hater, he would derive pleasure in talking gibberish about Army and ISI in private/official functions in Washington. He played a definite role in convincing Americans that with their support Pak military could be tamed. It was because of his shady activities, misconduct and over ambitious nature which had given rise to suspicions that he could be involved in memo.
Putting two and two together, even a layman could guess that he must be having some connection with 2 May episode and memo, particularly after it was established that certain clauses of Kerry Lugar Bill added by Haqqani were similar to the contents of memo. He has been adding fuel to the US-western propaganda against Pak Army and ISI. He was instrumental in facilitating entry of undesirable 6700 CIA agents including Raymond Davis into Pakistan, which eased the job of CIA to setup an extensive network and execute 2 May and 22 May acts.
With such a black track record, it is strange that he shed tears of innocence and claimed to have done wonders in promoting Pak-US relations and promoting the image of Pakistan. He continuously looked towards his patrons in USA to rescue him. Instead of clearing his name in front of the Commission by presenting his BB sets and authorizing R&M to open his record so as to expose falsehood of Mansoor, he hid this vital input. Barring the involved persons, none believe his story that he misplaced his two official BB phones.
Besides western media, three US Senators and 16 prominent US scholars expressed their concern about his personal safety and well being despite the fact that he resided in the safe and comfortable confines of PM House. Being the chief suspect it is strange that he was accorded VVIP treatment while the one who voluntarily wanted to expose the memo case and carried hard evidence was hounded and discouraged to come. Having scared away Mansoor and memo commission’s refusal to take his testimony abroad has practically deflated the balloon of memo case.
The Commission surprisingly took no notice of an orchestrated campaign of intimidation by PPP leaders to dissuade Mansoor from coming to Pakistan. Having seen for itself the ulterior motives of the government, it should have asked the Army to provide foolproof security to Mansoor. For unknown reasons, the Commission expressed its inability to go abroad thereby denying itself crucial information which could help in ascertaining the truth. To top it all, SC has now put off the next hearing by two months and allowed Haqqani to proceed abroad on the express wish of Asma Jahangir. Plea taken by her was that his family was abroad and he was acutely missing them.
Commission’s unexpected decision has sent Haqqani, his wife and PPP leaders in raptures. Haqqani wasted no time and caught the first available flight to fly off to his safe haven in Washington where he will again take up his teaching job and may author another anti-Army/ISI book to the delight of his patrons. To expect that he would return whenever summoned by SC is wishful. This is the second big shock experienced by Pakistanis after Raymond Davis was quietly let off the hook. Great majority think that Haqqani was guilty and was a traitor. His departure has relaxed the nerves of the masterminds and they are now breathing more freely, but the nation is tense.
Army chief and DG ISI had very astutely netted Haqqani through cross examination and he was forced to resign. DG ISI bagged another key witness Mansoor who possesses relevant material to expose the network which framed memo. Former has been allowed to escape while latter has been scared away. This is incredible and inexplicable. Those who say that Army or ISI had any role need to examine their heads. Gens Kayani and Pasha virtually put their service at stake to nail Haqqani and to obtain incriminating data from Mansoor and to convince him to testify before the SC.
Why the memo commission allowed such a dicey man to fly off and that too at the assurance of equally unpredictable lawyer Asma is anybody’s guess. Some say either members of Commission were threatened or Nawaz played a role. Why is the Commission hesitant to travel abroad when it has been mandated by the SC to do so? Besides star witness Mansoor, next important witness is DG ISI and his statement in my view is of paramount importance, which should be enough to arrive at a conclusion. James Jones, Mike Mullen and Wajid Shams are also important players of memo case whose testimonies and cross examination will help in solving the mystery.
If they cannot come to Pakistan, their testimonies must be collected from them by reaching them. This option has become more feasible after the departure of Haqqani. Or else, option of video conferencing to be exercised. Likewise, another effort should be made to physically approach R&M in Canada to obtain Haqqani’s record. No stone should be left unturned to dig the truth and complete the memo inquest report since it is the question of national security. No compromise on this issue of vital importance will be acceptable. The nation cannot afford to live with such dangerous snakes in the grass.
Likewise, NRO case which seems to have been put in a cold freezer must be zealously pursued. The SC should come out of its defensive mode and become more proactive. It should not have allowed this case to linger on for such a long time and should have given its ruling over President’s immunity much earlier. People are no more interested in sheer sensationalism and hype, what they want is accountability of the wrongdoers irrespective of their social status. Their patience is wearing thin and credibility of SC is at stake. Now that immunity factor has come in the forefront, a quick decision should be given and those who willfully didn’t implement SC orders should be indicted and all out efforts made to recover $60 million stolen from national kitty.