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Govt comments sought in Atlantique case

July 17, 2002

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LAHORE, July 16: A Lahore High Court appellate bench sought comments from the federal law secretary and the attorney-general within a month about the processing of the Atlantique case for filing before the International Court of Justice.

Atlantique, a Pakistan Navy reconnaissance plane, was shot down by India over the international border without warning in August 1999. All 16 navy personnel aboard were killed.

The Nawaz Sharif government decided to agitate the matter before the ICJ and the then law federal law minister, Khalid Anwer, did the groundwork. Aziz A Munshi, the military government’s (former) attorney-general, actively pursued the matter and pleaded the case before the ICJ, which dismissed it after preliminary hearing.

According to Advocate MD Tahir, the government spent over Rs24.32 million on the preparation of the case and the fees of the AG and other lawyers. He questioned the waste of public funds on a case that was not maintainable before the ICJ and moved a petition in the Lahore High Court.

Justice Malik Muhammad Qayyum, since retired, dismissed the petition, saying that the money was well spent as the proceedings also projected the Kashmir issue. He praised the legal acumen of Mr Munshi and Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, the then federal law minister, who represented Pakistan as ad hoc judge of the ICJ at the Hague.

Mr Tahir challenged the dismissal by an intra-court appeal, which came up for hearing before a division bench comprising Justices M Javed Buttar and Jamshed Ali Shah. The impugned order, the lawyer said, skirted round the main issue. He claimed that Indian AG Soli Sorabji received a sum of Rs500,000 for the same assignment and even this amount was objected to by the Indian law minister, who resigned in protest.

The bench asked Deputy Attorney-General Sher Zaman Khan to obtain comprehensive replies to the averments made by the appellant in his pleadings from the offices of the federal law secretary and the attorney-general within a month, following which the appeal would be fixed for regular hearing.