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Court lifts Haqqani travel restrictions

January 31, 2012

Husain Haqqani. - File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court hearing the controversial memo case lifted on Monday travel restrictions imposed on former ambassador Husain Haqqani on Dec 1 last year and allowed him to go to Washington to meet his family.

A nine-judge larger bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry also gave two more months to the SC-constituted judicial commission to complete its probe into the scandal. The three-judge commission had earlier been asked to come up with its report by Dec 30.

The commission, at its last proceedings on Jan 24, had directed its secretary to send a request to the Supreme Court to extend the deadline because cross-examination of key witnesses required more time.

The court declined to consider for any purpose a secret letter addressed to the chief justice by Mansoor Ijaz, the main character in the scandal. The court directed the registrar to keep the letter with him under seal.

In the letter captioned ‘secret’, Mr Ijaz is reported to have disclosed certain information, but the court questioned its authenticity and observed that it was the cardinal principle of law that only court decided the status of a document to be treated as confidential or classified.

“We would have appreciated if he (Mansoor Ijaz) had sent such a document to the court through his counsel,” the court said. The court rejected an application moved by Mr Ijaz through his counsel Mohammad Akram Sheikh that his statement be recorded outside Pakistan and asked the counsel to take up the matter with the judicial commission. The commission has already turned down the request. “One feels breathing easier after the stuffy air behind the memogate scandal gushed out after today’s court order,” a senior lawyer commented.

Mr Haqqani won the much-needed freedom, but with some strings attached. He would have to return in four days after the issuance of a notice whenever his attendance is required either by the commission or the apex court and to leave his full particulars to the SC registrar before leaving the country.

“I am glad that the Supreme Court has restored my right to travel, which had been rescinded without any charges filed against me,” Mr Haqqani told Dawn after the verdict.

“I will join my family in the US after discussions with leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party, including President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani,” he said, adding that he would continue to speak out for democracy and civilian supremacy as well as for the mandate of elected leaders to be respected by unelected branches of the government.

“I am grateful for all the support I have received from Pakistani democrats and the international community. I returned home and resigned to disprove allegations that created political instability even without any evidence,” he said.

Mr Haqqani said in his statement: “Anywhere else, this matter would have been laid to rest long ago. An American citizen sent a memo to an American official through a retired American official and later claimed he did so at a Pakistani official’s behest.

“The memo had no impact on US policy and was consigned to the dustbin by its recipient. But still 14 opposition politicians approached the court to demand an inquiry and so far the only evidence recorded by the inquiry commission is my statement denying authorship of the memo.

“As someone who believes in democracy and due process, I will remain engaged with the courts and the inquiry commission to seek vindication. A nation’s political stability should not be allowed to be held hostage by any single individual’s unproven claims.”

The court lifted the travel ban on an application moved by Mr Haqqani’s counsel Asma Jehangir who said her client had fully cooperated with the commission and would continue to do so and, if required, would return to Pakistan anytime on four days’ notice to join its proceedings.

Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq said he had no objection if the former ambassador was allowed to leave the country.

The court noted that in its earlier orders on Dec 1 and Dec 30, Mr Haqqani had been asked not to leave the country without prior permission of this court and now such permission was being sought and for the reasons disclosed hereinabove, he was allowed to leave the country.

Earlier, the attorney general strongly objected when the court was about to consider to a request by Barrister Zafarullah Khan, one of the petitioners in the memo case, to record the statement of the ISI director general, who has already filed his affidavit, in the absence of Mansoor Ijaz’s statement.

“There is no provision in Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order 1984 of treating secondary evidence as primary,” he said, adding that it would influence so many people.

The AG’s argument was supported by Justice Saqib Nisar, a member of the bench, who observed that interrogatories, the process of putting a list of questionnaire by the court to a witness or a complainant, were not secondary evidence.

“Do not micromanage the commission’s proceedings,” Asma Jehangir said.

The chief justice stated in his order that the court did not want to interfere in the proceedings of the commission. “However, in the interest of justice, we extend the time for completion of the proceedings for a period of two months commencing from the passing of this order,” he said.

On a petition filed by Shahid Orakzai questioning the constitution of the commission, the court issued a notice to the government and asked it to file comments before the next hearing, the date of which would be decided at a later stage.