The Bush administration and the world was deliberately and systematically presented a mutilated and distorted image of the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry, according to well planned strategy of the Presidency so that Washington may not raise serious objections when the Nov 3 coup against the judges was carried out. The main objective of this strategy was to convince the US that Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was soft on terrorists and could create serious problems by asking for the production and release of all missing persons, most of whom were handed over by Pakistan to US.
Top government officials holding key positions in the previous government have revealed in separate interviews that the Presidency had reached the conclusion that it had no option but to take extra constitutional steps to remove the apex court judges, which was impossible without taking the US into confidence. According to the officials, the government had decided to take advantage of the missing persons’ case which was being heard by the apex court then.
A key plank of the strategy was to produce some of the missing persons but not provide any evidence to the court so that the judges had no legal ground to keep them under detention. “The court was being forced to release these missing persons which would then be presented as a proof of Justice Chaudhry’s sympathy for terrorists,” one official said.
The chief justice and some lawyers had smelled a rat. The chief justice thought it may be a good idea to accept a request for a meeting pending with him from the US Ambassador Anne Patterson and explain the situation. But he used the official procedure and asked the Pakistan Foreign Office to give clearance for the meeting as is required under the rules. But according to the government strategy, this meeting could be damaging, so the Foreign Office did not give permission to the CJ to see the US ambassador. Accordingly, the CJ declined the meeting with Ambassador Patterson.
But the denial was presented by the Pakistani officials as part of Justice Chaudhry’s anti-American tilt, an official said. “Refusing a meeting with the US ambassador easily conveyed the wrong message to the US government that the sitting judiciary was adopting a hard line on the war on terror,” the official added.
The chief justice had received the Saudi Ambassador in Islamabad on December 8, 2007, but when a US diplomat was then asked whether Ambassador Patterson also wanted to see him, the diplomat was quoted as saying no. Explaining his answer, the US diplomat had said that Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had turned down the request for a meeting with the US ambassador twice after his re-instatement on July 20 and before imposition of emergency on November 3. “Now, we don’t feel any need to request for an appointment with Justice Iftikhar as he may also refuse,” the senior US diplomat had told ‘The News’.
Deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on knowing the US embassy concerns had informed two lawyers in contact with him about the actual situation. Justice Iftikhar told them that it was not he, but the Foreign Office, which had instructed him not to meet the US ambassador.
“It is mandatory for any top official of the judiciary to inform the Foreign Office before meeting such a high profile diplomatic official, and especially in the situation the country was passing through. On our intimation to the Foreign Office, we immediately received a message that we could not meet with the US ambassador and subsequently there was no option other than regretting the US ambassador’s request,” Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry said in his message. The same situation was also conveyed to the US ambassador, credible sources told ‘The News’.
A senior government official said that when the Supreme Court started hearing of missing persons case after restoration of the chief justice on July 20 last, the attorney general and other government officials repeatedly promised the court to provide credible evidence about the alleged involvement of these “traced” missing persons, but never did so.
According to reports, in the post July 20 scenario, cases of only three traced missing persons were decided and subsequently they were released, in the petitions filed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and former senator and Pakistan People’s Party’s spokesman Farhatullah Babur. These were Naeem Noor Khan, Aleem Nasir and Hafiz Abdul Basit.
According to these reports, Naeem Noor Khan, a computer expert and resident of Karachi, was released by the agencies holding him on the grounds that he cooperated with them, and because of his help the agencies managed to arrest Musaad Aruchi, who was alleged to be a senior member of the al-Qaeda leadership.
With the information provided by Naeem and his help the UK police arrested a terror gang of 13 people. The Supreme Court was informed on August 20 last that Naeem Noor Khan was released and had reached his home. “The court was never provided with the details of the crimes in which Naeem was involved, otherwise no judge could order release of a person even allegedly involved in such heinous crimes,” a member of the bench hearing the case told a senior lawyer.
These facts are also evident from the Supreme Court record as well as from the media reports published in all leading national dailies in the month of August 2007.
Aleem Nasir, a German national, was arrested by the ISI from Lahore Airport on July 18, 2007, while on his way to Germany on charges of smuggling precious stones and was missing from the same day. He was never even charged by the government of being involved in some terrorist activity, according to a senior former official of the Supreme Court. “The government did not come up with any proof against Aleem, and he had to be released by the apex court on August 21, 2007,” the official added.
The most important case was that of Hafiz Abdul Basit, who was allegedly involved in a terrorist attack on General Musharraf, according to the official. “Basit was arrested from Faisalabad by police and was subsequently handed over to the Military Intelligence (MI) on Pindi Bhatian Interchange of Lahore-Islamabad Motorway on the instructions of the then Additional Inspector General of Police Tariq Pervez, who was DG-FIA at the time of hearing, as court was informed by the police officials themselves.
The attorney general was quoted by all the newspapers of Pakistan on August 21 and 22, telling the apex court that proof of his involvement in heinous crimes will be provided to the court. This was never done.
When Attorney General Malik Qayyum was approached by this scribe last week and asked why the Supreme Court was never provided with authentic proof of involvement of Basit, Aleem and others, his response was: “This is an old case, and I don’t remember anything about it.”
Another important case heard along with these three persons was that of Imran Munir, a Malaysian Pakistani. According to one official this case seriously damaged the credibility of the whole process of detaining civilians by secret agencies on terrorism charges.
“Imran was in love with the niece of Brigadier Mansoor of ISI. He was invited to dinner by Brigadier Mansoor and went missing from that day,” Imran Munir’s attorney, Mujeeb Pirzada, told the Supreme Court on Aug 20, 2007, after Imran was traced in Mangla Cantt. Imran’s sister provided evidence that her brother loved the niece of Brigadier Mansoor of ISI. This, she did outside the Supreme Court building the same day.
“This was the first incident which told the world that some of the missing persons in the custody of intelligence agencies of Pakistan were not just terrorists but also lovers. It was the worst case which demolished the credibility of intelligence agencies,” the former Supreme Court official said.
He added: “The most interesting point was that government officials never came up with any allegation of involvement of Imran in any terrorist activity but shockingly, he was sentenced to eight years imprisonment by a military court, Field General Court Martial (FGCM), on spying charges. Loving a niece was equal to spying for a military court, it proved.
This conviction had been set aside, and his retrial was ordered by another military court, the SC official said. But this higher military court did not order Imran’s release because of the serious nature of allegations levelled against him.
According to the former senior official of the SC, the SC bench hearing these cases comprised deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Faqir Muhammad Khokhar, Justice M Javed Buttar, Justice Nasirul Mulk and Justice Raja Fayyaz Ahmed.
“The bench was of the view that all the missing persons should be produced before the court and should be prosecuted and kept in jail in accordance with the Constitution,” the official said, adding: “The bench never made even any observation indicating that it wanted the release of those persons involved in terrorist activities.”
The official also repeated that the allegations regarding supporting terrorism leveled by the General Pervez Musharraf at the time of imposition of emergency on Nov 3 against the apex judiciary was about the Lal Masjid case.
The official said that it was worth mentioning that Justice Faqir Muhammad Khokhar and Justice Muhammad Nawaz Abbasi, who first took suo moto action and then heard the case, were both invited for taking oath under PCO on Nov 03 last.
Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry himself had told The News on Nov 04 last that if any alleged terrorist was released by the Supreme Court, it was not the judges’ fault but the government never provided any evidence justifying the arrest. He had then said: “I have never been lenient towards the terrorists, but it was not possible for the judges of the Supreme Court to start punishing people without any evidence against them.”
He had also revealed that out of his serious concern over terrorism, he set up a committee under him that included judges from each provincial high court to expedite terrorism cases. Every month, he had said, the said committee used to meet and review the cases of terrorism to ensure that there were no delays.”
The official said that all the drama of presenting some innocent people as alleged terrorists and criminals was the part of a conspiracy against the country’s judiciary just to deceive the outside world that our judges were supporting terrorism and were hard liners.
By: Muhammad Ahmad Noorani, Islamabad
Published in The News, Monday, March 24, 2008