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Haqqani be brought back within four weeks: SC

05 June, 2013

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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has once again asked the Interior Ministry to take "legal and constitutional" measures to bring Husain Haqqani, former ambassador to the US, back to Pakistan in the 'Memo' case.

The Interior Ministry has been given four weeks just as it was instructed several months ago. As Justice Asif Saeed Khosa pointed out from the bench, Haqqani's return is "an ancillary matter" that is now consuming the court's time while the main case appears to have eclipsed.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry insisted that Haqqani had to be brought back to establish "the court's dignity" because he was allowed to leave the country after undertaking to return if required to do so. Haqqani's counsel, Asma Jehangir, pointed out that the undertaking had been superceded by circumstances. "My client feels his life would be endangered on returning to Pakistan and there is nothing I can do to change that," she said.

The most important aspect of Tuesday's proceedings, however, was Justice Khosa's observation that the main task before the court was to deal with the constitutional petitions filed by Nawaz Sharif and others. Asma Jehangir said that the petitioner was about to become prime minister and could take whatever legal action necessary after taking office.

Legal experts say that the Memo case has hit an impasse once again. The entire case revolves around the claims of one man, Mansoor Ijaz, whose credibility is doubtful. The report of the Memo Commission is also based only on Mansoor Ijaz's testimony as Haqqani's submissions were not included by the Commission, which also insisted that he return to the country first instead of letting him record his statement by videolink. The commission had allowed Mansoor Ijaz to record his claims by videolink from London.

Legally, so far no case has been registered or initiated against Haqqani, who rejects all claims about his involvement in sending the controversial memo. Also, it has not been determined as to which provision of the Pakistan Penal Code was violated even if Ijaz's claims are taken at face value. Haqqani has neither been charged nor tried under law.

The Supreme Court could ask the government to take cognisance of the Memo Commission's report but that too would result only in registering of FIR against Haqqani and nothing more. The case would have to be investigated afresh as a criminal matter and is unlikely to be resolved with both Ijaz and Haqqani out of the country.

Although the Memo Commission and the Supreme Court have both spoken many times about coercive measures against Haqqani, there are no legal options to force him to return. As Haqqani has not been charged with a crime, it is unlikely that international courts or Interpol will act against him. If the Supreme Court revokes his citizenship or cancels his passport, he would still have legal remedies available to him that might, in fact, embarrass the court, experts say.

Another issue is framing the specific charge against Haqqani. Although he has been described as having committed an act of disloyalty to the state, it is difficult to bring a case of treason. It was easy to generate media noise while the matter was being heard as a petition in the Supreme Court and before a commission. But neither panel is a criminal court, where the burden of proof will lie with the prosecution.

Under international law, treason is one of the charges for which there is no extradition and if that charge is filed against Haqqani, it will become even more difficult to get him to return to Pakistan. It may be recalled that the Supreme Court has already been criticised by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) for its conduct in the Memo case. Although diehard opponents of Haqqani and the Zardari government continue to cite the matter, the national and international media appears to have lost interest in the Memo affair. Conventional wisdom has also changed considerably. Many journalists who initially supported the view that the controversial memo threatened national security now wonder if it was ever sent by anyone other than Mansoor Ijaz himself.

End.

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