ISLAMABAD: The alleged surveillance of members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) by the government-controlled Intelligence Bureau (IB) was called into question on Monday when the Supreme Court sought Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf Ali’s assistance in determining what legal backing the bureau has to become ‘private sleuths’.
Not satisfied with the IB’s reply in response to the allegations levelled against it by the JIT, the three-judge Supreme Court implementation bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan was critical of the agency’s role in hacking the Facebook account of a JIT member, loitering around his residence and accessing the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) system to collect his personal data — becoming private investigators instead of working for the state of Pakistan.
The court was alluding to allegations that the IB retrieved information to help Hussain Nawaz — the elder son of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — who then used information to file an application before the Supreme Court, highlighting the leak of his photograph on social media.
IB Director General Aftab Sultan, who also visited the AG’s office after court proceedings on Monday, was asked to make himself available to the court today (Tuesday).
FIA told to investigate role of SECP chief in alleged tampering with record
In its order, the Supreme Court also ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate the role of Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) chairman Zafar Hijazi in the alleged tampering with the record of the Chaudhry Sugar Mills Ltd and asked the agency to submit a comprehensive report.
The court also reserved some flak for the JIT members and asked them to make a “beeline” towards their objective and complete their job within the stipulated time, without getting distracted by what the media or politicians were saying about them.
Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan expressed his concern over indiscriminate leaks to the media, adding that the harassment of JIT members must end, otherwise the court would have to pass “a very unpleasant order”.
Justice Ahsan also dubbed the government’s rejoinder a classic example of an “evasive reply”.
However, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed said the court was hurt by the reply submitted by the AG office on behalf of the institutions accused of tampering with the records or hampering the JIT’s work. “But then, this was not your personal reply,” the judge observed.
While pointing towards the AG, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan emphasised that the law officer was not representing the government, but appearing in court as the AG for Pakistan.
“You have a different stature and you are not supposed to take sides,” Justice Khan observed deploring that in his reply, the AG had straightaway denied the allegations without having explored them first.
“We depend on you and value your words — give them credence,” Justice Khan said.
Mr Ali, however, said that he was standing before the court as the AG, not as someone’s representative. He also wondered whether the court would not allow an accused to explain his position.
Justice Khan deplored that most of the media, and even those who claimed to be representatives of the government or the Sharif family, had resorted to a smear campaign. But he was adamant that the court would not be cowed by such tactics.
“We have repeatedly said that we will go by the book and the law,” Justice Khan observed.
“We cannot leave everything at the mercy of the person against whose assets the court had ordered an inquiry when an important case was being inquired.”
When the AG read aloud the IB reply, which claimed that it was a standard operating procedure to gather intelligence on matters of national importance, Justice Saeed inquired whether he (the judge) was also under surveillance.
Justice Ahsan asked the AG to cite any law which authorised the IB to harass the families of JIT members, saying what the IB did was outright harassment. He also wondered why the IB was poking its nose in the matter when it was the Supreme Court that had appointed the JIT.
“What is the IB’s mandate; does it interfere with everything the apex court does?” asked Justice Saeed, wondering whether the IB chief would be rewarded with an extension after his retirement.
When the AG said that the judges must walk a tightrope, Justice Saeed observed that the court would do so irrespective of the abuse it had to endure.
Justice Ahsan deplored that the biggest smear campaign against the JIT and the court was being run by the government, adding that eight different people attacked the JIT on a daily basis on different television channels.
At this point, the AG regretted that the court was indicting the government.
“We are taking note of all this and will issue appropriate orders later,” the judge said, asking when government institutions became so media savvy that they first denied the allegations levelled against them on camera before filing a reply in court.
Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2017