Pakistan's high court investigating memo scandal

A Pakistani soldier stands guard outside the Supreme Court building in Islamabad on Friday.

Story highlights

  • After weeks of hearings, the high court decides to appoint a judicial panel
  • "It's a black day," says a lawyer for the government
  • The scandal is over an alleged memo asking for U.S. help in averting a military takeover
  • The scandal exposed tensions between civilian leaders and the powerful military
Pakistan's Supreme Court appointed a panel Friday to investigate a memo allegedly drafted by the civilian leadership in which it asked the United States to rein in the nation's powerful military.
The court's decision upped the ante in what has come to be known as "Memogate" and rebuffs the government which has said the matter should be handled by a parliamentary committee, not in the high court.
The scandal, touched off by an October column written by businessman Mansoor Ijaz, publicly exposed the tensions between Pakistan's civilian and uniformed leaders.
Ijaz wrote about an alleged Pakistani government memo addressed to then U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing. The memo allegedly sought U.S. help in averting a military takeover in Pakistan.
"Inadvertent as my purpose was in disclosing the memorandum, the debate it has touched off is real and the issues being debated are finally the ones that need illumination in a country that survives on a rich diet of conspiracy theories and the adolescent antics of its political leaders," Ijaz wrote this month in a CNN column.
Ijaz said Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, asked him to deliver the confidential memo written at the behest of President Asif Ali Zardari.
Haqqani, who resigned his post, and several senior Pakistani officials have consistently denied the allegations.
Pakistani Attorney General Moulvi Anwarul Haq said the Supreme Court panel will look at all the evidence, including forensic data.
Among those who petitioned the high court to look into the scandal was Nawaz Sharif, the head of Pakistan's major opposition party. After weeks of hearings, the court decided Friday that there were grounds for an investigation.
"The decision is very disappointing and a it's a black day in Pakistan's history," said Asma Jahangir, Haqqani's lawyer.
The court has already told Haqqani he cannot leave Pakistan.
In light of Memogate, Pakistan has been rife with political intrigue in recent weeks, and the media has described a government on a collision course with its own army.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani spoke publicly of plots to topple the government and then tempered his provocative remarks by saying he accepted an army statement pledging support for the democratic process.
"We have been trying to remain on the same page (with the military) for the last four years," he said last week.
Pakistanis are well aware of the power of their military institutions.
In 64 years of existence, they have lived through three military coups and decades of military dictatorship.
"It is a fight between the feudal politics of Pakistan's barons, President Asif Ali Zardari being chief among them, and the military's dominance of its industry, security and strategic sectors," Ijaz wrote. "Stuck in the middle is a largely uneducated, underemployed and malnourished population that yearns for leadership -- any kind of leadership -- to guide the country forward."
Memogate, he wrote, has exposed that struggle to the rest of the world.
The U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden during a May raid on a compound located only about a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad enraged the Pakistani public and deeply embarrassed the military.
Relations became even more strained in November, after NATO forces killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers in airstrikes near the Afghan border -- an attack the United States insists was an act of self-defense after troops were fired upon.
In the first military operation since that attack, Pakistani security forces killed several suspected terrorists in South Waziristan Friday, the military said.
Amid heavy domestic pressure in Pakistan, Zardari's government made decisions unpopular with the United States, such as stopping the transport of NATO supplies through Pakistan and asking the U.S. military to vacate the Shamsi air base.
The Memogate scandal has threatened Zardari's credibility and emboldened his opponents, who think he favors closer ties with the U.S. military.
Haq, Pakistan's attorney general, said the judicial commission probing Memogate will consist of chief justices of two provincial high courts and the chief justice of the federal high court.