ISLAMABAD, Dec 1: President Asif Ali Zardari was dealt a second supreme blow in less than a week.

Within days of having rejected the government’s review petition against the NRO judgment, the Supreme Court moved on Thursday decisively and rapidly against the government on a petition filed by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif.

It ordered an inquiry to be completed into the ‘memogate’ scandal within 15 days, barred former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani from leaving the country and issued notices to the president, the army chief and others concerned with the case.

A nine-judge larger bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry took up nine petitions moved by PML-N leaders from four provinces, AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan and two individuals.

Mr Sharif himself presented his case by reading out the entire petition in the tightly packed court.

The chief justice passed the order at the end of the four-hour proceedings without much deliberation or hesitation.

The immediate ‘affectee’ of the order is obviously Mr Haqqani who has been directed not to leave the country without prior permission and to cooperate with the commission set up by the court.

The commission will be headed by former secretary of the Anti-Narcotics Force Tariq Khosa, who will be free to conduct the inquiry on his own or to associate any expert to collect forensic evidence.

Mr Khosa, who has also served as inspector general of Balochistan police and director general of the Federal Investigation Agency, is a brother of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Punjab Chief Secretary Nasir Khosa.

Undoubtedly, the order will simply ratchet up the pressure on the government, which has been intensifying since the ‘memogate’ issue erupted. When the issue was hot, the fear was that it would take down Mr Haqqani as well as President Zardari. However, this fear abated once the ambassador resigned from his position on Nov 22. However, within days, another crisis erupted.On Friday, the apex court rejected the review petition against the NRO judgment, raising the spectre of corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari being revived.

That the ‘memogate’ issue could also lead to the presidency was evident from the court proceedings; the SC referred to the famous Watergate scandal in the United States that ended with the resignation of president Richard Nixon.

The court referred to Mr Nixon to point out that pre-trial evidence could be collected by the commission [headed in this case by Mr Khosa] which is to be presented to the court within 15 days of its formation.

After that, the next hearing will be scheduled at which the SC expects to hear from President Asif Ali Zardari, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, former ambassador Haqqani and Mansoor Ijaz, US businessman of Pakistani origin.

Having scored what was a political victory against the PPP, Mr Sharif pronounced himself “satisfied with the order”. But in the views of many, the order had simply set the stage for another bout of conflict between the executive and the judiciary. Others saw it simply as a move to destabilise the PPP government, an allegation raised by angry PPP leaders at a press conference in the evening.

“The court is treating Mansoor Ijaz’s article in Financial Times as if it is gospel truth,” said a lawyer.

This was also the line taken by Mr Haqqani who has been keeping a low profile since his resignation; he sent out an email to the media after the order came.

“I resigned to pave the way for a transparent investigation and intend to stay in my country for as long as necessary,” he said, adding that the only fact known for sure was that a private US businessman sent a memo through a retired US official to a then serving US official. The businessman then “revealed” the memo in an Op-ed article, which also levelled serious allegations against Pakistan’s state institutions and against Mr Haqqani.

“It is ironic that the newspaper article and its author are being deemed credible in relation to the claim about the origin of his memo without realising that this confers implicit credibility to his other assertions about Pakistan,” he said.

He also said that he would testify to the parliamentary committee as well as answer all the questions raised before the court by the opposition politicians “but would not become part of any effort to cause further deterioration in US-Pakistan relations or in maligning Pakistan’s institutions of state whose reform and role are so critical in the security of the country and in fighting extremists and terrorists.”

Mr Haqqani’s subtle reference to the parliamentary committee was not lost on those who had said during the day that for the court to set up a commission at a time when a parliamentary committee was already looking into the issue was an infringement on the powers of the executive.

However, columnist and lawyer Babar Sattar felt that only the court was credible enough to be believed by the people as to what had happened in the ‘memogate’ scandal.

It is important to mention here that the order mentioned that the ISI had collected the messages exchanged between Mr Haqqani and Mansoor Ijaz; that the latter asserted that the former had claimed that the memo was approved by the president; as well as the fact that Interior Minister Rehman Malik had said that Mr Haqqani had exchanged text messages with Mr Ijaz.

In addition, the order mentioned that Article 5 of the Constitution made it every citizen’s duty to be loyal to the state and obedient to the Constitution.