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.