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ISLAMABAD, April 6 The Supreme Court, which has taken notice of public flogging of a teenage girl in Swat, came down hard on the government on Monday for its helplessness in establishing the writ of the law in the troubled valley and sought fortnightly reports from top officials on progress into investigation into the incident.

The court also questioned interior secretary Syed Kamal Shah over the government's failure to prevent a spate of recent suicide bombings and acts of terrorism across the country.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry ordered the interior secretary and NWFP's chief secretary and police chief to submit fortnightly progress reports to the Supreme Court registrar for perusal by the judges in chambers.

He was presiding over an eight-judge larger bench in a packed court room.

The court took notice of the incident on a report submitted by the registrar after watching a video of the flogging aired by television channels.

Taking note of denial on oath by the purported victim and her husband that the incident had taken place, the court ordered formation of a five-member police team to probe into the incident and to meet local notables to ascertain the possibility that a fake CD might have been made to malign the people of Swat who were demanding enforcement of religious laws.

The court observed it would not be soliciting anything against the interest of the state, but was concerned only with the legality of the punishment awarded to the girl, considering the dignity of human beings as enshrined in Islamic principles and the Constitution and the role of police if the punishment was illegal.

If a matter concerned the dignity of human beings, action should be taken under Article 184(3), the court observed.

“We are neither against nor in favour of anyone, but concerned that only lawful sentences should be awarded,” the chief justice observed. He cited examples from Muslim history to establish that punishments were awarded but human dignity was never violated.

Besides Chief Justice Iftikhar, the bench comprises Justice Javed Iqbal, Justice Sardar Mohamamd Raza Khan, Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday, Justice Faqir Mohammad Khokhar, Justice Mian Shakirullah Jan, Justice Raja Fayyaz Ahmed and Justice Chaudhry Ijaz Ahmed.

The chief justice also expressed displeasure over the fact that the interior secretary had merely sent a letter to the provincial government for bringing the girl before the court. He observed that the court itself could have done the same if it the matter had been so simple.

“It is easy to arrest judges, but when it comes to enforcing a law the progress is not so well,” he observed.

“Are you so indispensable?” Justice Ramday inquired, asking what contributions had helped him to get rewarded. “What have you done to become so indispensable?”

The secretary who retired on Aug 18, 2007, has been twice granted one-year extension.

“Since you must be very competent and bright, you should yourself go to Swat to see what is happening there, instead of becoming a paper tiger,” Justice Ramday observed, adding that the official should show progress in the case to the people.

“The entire nation is looking towards you, but what are you people doing? Every day people are being killed and suicide bombers are blowing themselves up in the heart of the capital, Chakwal and Manawan, Lahore,” the chief justice observed.

“When we take notice, you people complain against us for stepping into your affairs. What should the Supreme Court do?” he observed.

Peshawar High Court Bar Association chief Latif Afridi brought the seriousness of the situation to the court's notice. He said that “Swat has gone” despite military operation, presence of 30,000 troops and air cover.

“There is no writ of the government and the fundamental rights of the people are violated every day, every hour and every minute. People are being evicted from their homes, their houses area looted, courts are closed and lawyers are being killed,” he said, adding that 300 schools had been destroyed in the area. He said 900 policemen out of 1,600 had deserted.

He warned that the problem would not remain confined to Swat.

Justice Raza asked whether the agreement singed for Swat was a peace deal or a treaty to surrender.

Mr Afridi called for an investigation into the failure of the seven-month military action and role of intelligence agencies.

He said hundreds of people had been killed and “it is a total surrender”.

Attorney General Sardar Latif Khosa submitted a report on behalf of the NWFP chief secretary and a copy of an FIR registered about the case.

He also requested for in-camera proceedings in view of sensitivities involved.

The chief justice ignored the request and told the attorney general that the jurisdiction of the apex court extended to the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas.

The chief secretary also drew the chief justice's ire for expressing helplessness in exercising his power to enforce the law in the area.

In a democratic set-up, is it not the duty of the government to take the people into confidence, Justice Ramday asked. He said things had gone too far to be addressed by holding meetings. “This is something beyond discussions, but you are scared of telling the people the truth,” he observed.

Mr Khosa said “We are living in turbulent times, but things will be fine with the will of the people.”

Frontier police chief Malik Naveed Khan told the court that an FIR had been registered but the place of occurrence was not known.

According to rumours, he said, one Chand Bibi and Ms Moharaja had been subjected to flogging on separate occasions. Chand Bibi and her husband Adalat Khan had recorded their statements before Commissioner Syed Mohammad Javed and Qazi Riaz, the Illaqa Qazi, at her home and denied that the incident had taken place. He said the woman was not willing to appear on the media.

The court ordered that the place where the incident had taken place should be ascertained.

It said the interior secretary was responsible for ensuring enforcement of laws in the tribal areas where the Supreme Court had jurisdiction.

Justice Javed Iqbal expressed concern over the way Islam was being portrayed and observed that only a ruler, and not anyone with a gun, could dictate a punishment.