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ISLAMABAD, Dec 14 The federal government's lawyer Kamal Azfar on Monday stunned the Supreme Court bench hearing challenges to the controversial NRO by saying that he alluded to the American CIA and the GHQ (General Headquarters) when he cautioned in the petition he had filed last week about threats that could derail the democratic system in Pakistan.

“You want me to say it more openly? The danger comes from the CIA and the GHQ,” Mr Azfar responded after the 17-judge bench repeatedly asked him what apprehensions he had in mind about the democratic set-up.

The counsel, however, hastened to add that these were his personal views when Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday asked him to say so in writing. The judge said if there were threats from the CIA or the GHQ, these concerned the executive.

“Look what we have done to Pakistan which otherwise (was) destined to become an Asian tiger, but one prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged while the other, Benazir Bhutto, was killed,” Mr Azfar bemoaned.

Mr Azfar's remarks in the court sent ripples across the country the moment it was beamed on television channels. In the evening, Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and though no details were available, the matter was believed to have come up during the discussion.

The federal government had on Thursday filed a petition in the Supreme Court expressing fears that any decision on the NRO “outside what petitioners had sought” could destabilise the democratic system.

The court was visibly disturbed with a paragraph in the petition which stated “Pakistan today is poised at the crossroads. One road leads to a truly federal democratic welfare state with the balance of power between an independent judiciary, a duly elected government representing the will of the people and a determined executive which is fighting the war against terrorism and poverty. The second road leads to destabilisation of the rule of law. The people of Pakistan await your verdict.”

Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry again observed that the court was here to guard democracy and the rule of law.

“I feel hurt when somebody says against what we have struggled for,” the CJ said, adding that the court would not tolerate such allegations.

Outside the court, acting Attorney General Shah Khawar described Mr Azfar's remarks as his personal views. He told DawnNews that this had never been the stand of the federation and he was convinced that whatever Mr Azfar had said before the court was based on his own understanding of developments and had nothing to do with the views of the federation.

The acting attorney general told the court that he would seek instructions from the government whether he should withdraw the entire petition or some parts of it.

“You asked us not to go into wider issues. Which slate to be wiped off clean of what and what are those wider issues in your mind,” Justice Ramday asked Mr Azfar.

“These had to be cleaned by the petitioners who were taking the court into wider issues,” Mr Azfar replied, but failed to satisfy the court as it repeatedly asked about his apprehensions about derailment of democracy and the name of the person of the law ministry who had instructed him to submit the petition.

“Your client needs to satisfy us by filing a personal affidavit explaining about the apprehensions,” the court said.

The counsel repeatedly said that whatever he had stated in the petition was his own opinion and he would not pass on the buck. He later said there were extra-constitutional forces both inside and outside Pakistan which wanted to destabilise democracy.

Justice Javed Iqbal said the court had already stressed that it would jealously safeguard democracy, but it should be kept in mind that the democratic system did not mean protecting a few “illegitimate groups” of people.

Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan came to the rescue of Mr Azfar by suggesting him to consult his client and go ahead if he thought he could afford to delete objectionable paragraphs from the petition.

Mr Azfar was of the view that the government was confronted with issues like terrorism, poverty, wheat and sugar crisis and many others and that it would be a relief for the nation if the verdict on the petitions came soon.

The chairman of the National Accountability Bureau informed the court that the bureau had spent Rs192 million on pursuing money laundering cases in the Swiss court against President Asif Ali Zardari. An amount of Rs188 million was paid as fees to Swiss lawyers and Rs4.1 million spent on visits of NAB officers to Switzerland.

However, the chairman clarified that the amount pertained only to the post-1999 period (after the removal of the Nawaz government) as the money exhausted by Ehtesab Bureau chief Saifur Rehman, who was a member of the Nawaz government, came from secret funds.

Justice Ghulam Rabbani wondered what action had been taken against people responsible for initiating these corruption cases as the NAB had stated all cases were false.

“Action should be taken against those who initiated these cases and this matter should also be probed by this court,” the acting AG argued.

The NAB chairman admitted that the investigating magistrate in his inquiry had found $59.45 million in SGS and Cotecna cases, but this probe and money laundering cases initiated by the Swiss authorities on its own came to an end after the Pakistan government said that it was withdrawing the request of mutual legal assistance. After the request, the Swiss authorities had unfrozen the money lying in a Swiss bank, he added.

The NAB will also submit supporting documents before the court on Tuesday.

Both Advocate A.K. Dogar, representing petitioner Feroz Shah Jillani, and Shahid Orakzai concluded their arguments.

Replies to the federal government's petition by Jamaat-i-Islami and Roedad Khan were also filed.

Engineer Jamil, of the Communist Party of Pakistan, challenged the president's immunity under Article 248 of the Constitution. He said that such powers were not enjoyed by the president in many countries of the world.