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Judicial Commission To Look Into Memogate

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Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court set up a judicial commission to investigate a secret memo that threatens the Pakistani government, lawyers said, dealing a blow to the country’s leaders, who have argued that such a probe is unnecessary.

The government has suggested its opponents on the Supreme Court, in the military and in the political opposition are using the scandal to try to topple the country’s leadership.

 

The political crisis centers on a memo sent to Washington in May, asking for help in stopping a supposed army coup following the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The memo was allegedly crafted by Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, with the support of President Asif Ali Zardari. Both Haqqani and Zardari have denied the allegations, but the envoy resigned in the wake of the scandal.

 

The army, which has denied it ever intended to carry out a coup, was outraged by the memo and supported the Supreme Court’s investigation.

The government argued that a court probe was unnecessary because parliament was the more appropriate forum and was already looking into the matter.

“This is the most disappointing judgment,” said Haqqani’s lawyer, Asma Jehangir, after the Supreme Court ruling. “National security has been given priority over human rights.”

There is long-standing tension between Pakistan’s military and its civilian leadership because the army has staged a series of coups and ruled the country for much of its 64-year history.

 

The Supreme Court decided to set up a three-judge commission to investigate the memo scandal in response to a petition filed by a group of opposition politicians, including former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The commission will be led by the chief justice of the Baluchistan high court, Qazi Faez Isa, and must deliver its report within four weeks, said Zafar Ullah, Sharif’s lawyer.

“We should have trust and confidence in this commission,” said Ishaq Dar, a member of Sharif’s political party and another one of the petitioners.

Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Dawn newspaper, said the Supreme Court’s decision wasn’t a surprise, and unless the commission unearthed something dramatically new, the scandal could just fade away.

The worst case scenario for the government would be evidence linking the president to the memo, Almeida wrote. But even then, Zardari would enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution while in office, and impeaching the president would be difficult given the large number of seats his party has in parliament, he said.

“It doesn’t look right now like the commission will be used to undermine the government to the point of where it has to go,” said Almeida.

 

The political crisis comes at a time when Pakistan is facing a violent Taliban insurgency, a stuttering economy and troubled relations with its most important ally, the United States.

 

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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SOUTH ASIA

Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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