Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry along with Justice Javed Iqbal. – File Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD: After keeping quiet for several weeks, the government has finally requested the Chief Justice of Pakistan to nominate a judge of the Supreme Court to head a commission to investigate the May 2 covert US operation in Abbottabad in which Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed.

Federal Law and Justice Secretary Masood Chishti wrote a letter to this effect to Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

It was delivered at the residence of SC Registrar Dr Faqir Husssain on Sunday, reliable sources told Dawn.

On May 31, the government had announced a five-member inquiry commission headed by Justice Javed Iqbal on the Abbottabad raid, but it could not become functional because the SC judge linked his acceptance to approval by the Chief Justice.

When asked if the government would review the names of other four members, a senior government official said the controversy concerned only about the head of the commission and, therefore, it was unlikely “we will change them”.

Other members of the commission are Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, Lt-Gen (retd) Nadeem Ahmed, former inspector general of police Abbas Khan and former ambassador Jehangir Ashraf Qazi. Secretary of the Cabinet Division Nargis Sethi has been named as the commission’s secretary.

Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim has expressed his inability to be in the commission. Although a secretariat for the commission was separately announced on June 19, it has not held any meeting so far.

Reacting to the development, PML-N spokesman Ahsan Iqbal told Dawn that with the government now formally asking the Chief Justice to nominate a sitting judge of the Supreme Court to head the commission, “we hope it will also consult the opposition for a change in the rest of the commission’s complexion”.

The joint parliamentary resolution requires that the Leader of Opposition be consulted before selecting members of the commission and setting terms of references. Therefore, he said, the PML-N would accept the commission only if it was constituted in true spirit of the May 14 resolution.

Mr Iqbal said the PML-N had rejected the Abbottabad commission since it had been constituted by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani without the ‘mandatory consultation’ with the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

The government came up with its own commission despite the fact that Chaudhry Nisar had written a letter to the prime minister suggesting some names for the commission, the PML-N spokesman said.

The government also came under severe criticism on June 16 when it announced a similar commission to investigate the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad, again without consulting the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) which was demanding an independent inquiry into the brutal killing of Mr Shahzad, moved the Supreme Court, seeking its intervention to determine facts which led to the journalist’s murder.

The PML-N has also expressed reservations about powers of the May 2 commission, saying the terms of reference suggested by the Leader of Opposition in his letter have not been considered. It said it believed the commission would be powerless because the terms of reference set by the government did not empower it to summon any government official or get access to official and sensitive documents.

Chaudhry Nisar had proposed that the commission be constituted under the Commission of Inquiry Act of 1956 and it must submit its report to parliament within 30 days. But, the government’s May 31 notification does not give any timeframe.

According to the notification, the commission’s task is “to ascertain the full facts regarding the presence of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan; investigate circumstances and facts regarding US operation in Abbottabad; determine the nature, background and causes of lapses of the concerned authorities, if any; and to make consequential recommendations”.