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ISLAMABAD, Dec 19: The news is not good for those who think that the furore over the memo issue has died down after the return of President Asif Ali Zardari or after meetings between the prime minister and the army chief. A nine-judge larger bench of the Supreme Court, which resumed the hearing on Monday of the memo case on petitions filed by PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and others, took exception to the Dec 1 media jibe by both former and incumbent law ministers, Dr Babar Awan and Maula Bux Chandio.

“If the prime minister is of the opinion (that whatever uttered was not the stand of the government) he should tell what action he has taken knowing well that the matter is pending before the court,” observed Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.

Soon after the Dec 1 court order in which a one-man commission, headed by Tariq Khosa had been set up to investigate the memo scandal, Dr Awan, along with some cabinet members, launched a tirade against the order at a press conference and openly attacked the family of a sitting judge of the apex court for being brother of Mr Khosa.

The bench called Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq at the outset of the hearing and while referring to Dr Awan’s press conference, asked him to clarify whether the federal government condoned ridicule of the judiciary. “It has been painfully noted that after the passing of the Dec 1 order, some of the persons, including Babar Awan and others belonging to the government functionaries, convened a press conference probably in the office of the Information Secretary or in the Press Information Department (PID) wherein the proceedings of this court were ridiculed, insulted by using contemptuous language, so much so, by involving or using the name of one of the judges who was not a member of the bench,” the court said in its order.

“We have asked the AG that if the stand of the prime minister is the same as he is expressing on behalf of the federation, then the prime minister be asked to inform us what action he has taken against the persons who, using official premises, ridiculed, insulted and criticised the judiciary in spite of the fact that the matter is still sub judice. Similarly, we have noted with concern that Law Minister Maula Bux Chandio, being a law-knowing person, criticised the proceedings by uttering the words which ought not to have been used by him,” it said.

Referring to the absence of President Zardari’s reply, the court made it clear that when allegations were not rebutted, these were usually considered to be correct.

The court again ordered the federal government, Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI DG Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani and Mansoor Ijaz to submit affidavits on oath as well as para-wise comments denying or accepting whatever was levelled or stated in the petitions or the replies.

The attorney general represented the federal government, the army chief and the ISI chief.

The affidavits are required to be filed in the court as well as exchanged by the parties before Dec 22, the next date of hearing. The court issued the directive after realising that despite earlier instructions replies and rejoinders were not filed by the respondents, deemed necessary for a decision on the case.

Despite expectations the court withheld naming the next nominee for the commission to probe the memo scandal after its first appointee (Tariq Khosa) regretted accepting the job. The court said it would first decide on the maintainability of petitions.

FINER POINTS: The court also tried to concentrate on exploring what the controversial memorandum meant by using “we”, an expression repeatedly found in the body of the document.

It was Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani who raised the point first and wondered the memo might have been sent to US officials by members of a yet-to-be-formed national security team.

Referring to certain paragraphs, Justice Saqib Nisar observed the memo did not seem to have any connection with Mr Haqqani. It might be the interpretation of some people whose tipped to become members of the national security, he added.

“It means there is a structure or a blueprint (of the national security),” Justice Tariq Pervez said.

Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan asked the petitioners to dilate upon questions. could “we discern that the memo came from the office of the people from inside Pakistan and whether its contents violate the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution”.

Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja said judges of the Supreme Court came under the public domain and, therefore, subject to public criticism because they were the paid servants of people, and not rulers. “People expect from the executive, parliament and the judiciary that we will get to the bottom of the matter in hand,” he said, adding that it was an erroneous concept that the judges did not draw legitimacy from the people.

The court asked the attorney general to place copies of the notification in pursuance of which Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal had been appointed chairman of the Abbottabad inquiry commission without consulting the chief justice and of the resignation tendered by Mr Haqqani and the notification about its acceptance.