Will Covid-19 Pandemic Worsen Pakistan’s Human Rights Situation?

All over the world, the weakest segments of society will be the worst hit by Covid19. That is also true in Pakistan. On May 1, 2020, leading human rights watchdog, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), released its flagship annual report ‘State of Human Rights in 2019.’

At the launch, HRCP warned that Covid19 “will worsen human rights record of the country.” HRCP honorary spokesperson I. A. Rehman “termed Pakistan’s human rights record in 2019 ‘greatly worrisome’ and said the ongoing global pandemic was likely to cast a long shadow on prospects for human rights.” HRCP’s secretary-general Harris Khalique observed “Last year will be remembered for systematic curbs on political dissent, the chokehold on press freedom, and the grievous neglect of economic and social rights. The 2019 report also offers standalone chapters on each federating unit and administered territories so that no area remains underreported or missed out.”

According to the HRCP 2019 report “Pakistan has failed to protect its most vulnerable: reports of child labourers being sexually abused in mines surfaced in Balochistan, while news of young children being raped, murdered and dumped has become frighteningly common. Women continued to bear the brunt of society’s fixation with ‘honour’, with Punjab accounting for the highest proportion of ‘honour’ crimes. Equally, Pakistan does not protect those to whom it has a duty of care:  prisoners in the country’s sorely overpopulated jails remain relegated to subhuman level.” The report noted at least 2,846 cases of child abuse.

Not only have has it “become even more difficult to criticise state policy,” but as former HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf noted, “coupled with the erosion of social media spaces and a deliberate financial squeeze on the media, ‘led to Pakistan’s position slipping on the World Press Freedom Index.’”

Further, the HRCP report noted, “People continued to be reported ‘missing’ during the year. It is imperative that the government deliver on its commitment to criminalise enforced disappearances. Equally, the continued operation of internment centres cannot be justified on any grounds. HRCP director Farah Zia said: ‘In the case of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa)—both historically under-reported provinces—the acknowledgement of real issues and their political resolution is vital if the state is serious about strengthening the federation.’”

Finally, “Religious minorities remained unable to enjoy the freedom of religion or belief guaranteed to them under the constitution. For many communities, this has meant the desecration of their sites of worship, the forced conversion of young women, and constant discrimination in access to employment.”

According to the HRCP report, “by the year end, there were about 1.8 million cases pending in the courts, as against 1.9m in 2018.” HRCP also noted that “in term of law-making, a total of 107 acts were passed by the parliament and the provincial assemblies: six federal acts and 101 provincial acts.”

What Good Does Another ‘Kashmir Day’ Do?

For the last seven decades Kashmir has driven Pakistan’s foreign and security policy. Pakistanis have the right to believe that Kashmir should form part of Pakistan. But the first priority of every Pakistani government should be to provide for the average Pakistani citizen, not some cause that may take decades to be fulfilled.
The Interior Ministry issued a notification today that October 27 would be observed inside Pakistan as Black Day “throughout the country to express support and solidarity with Kashmiri people in their unprecedented peaceful struggle for their right to self determination. According to the interior ministry notification Thursday, the government has urged the public to wear black arm-bands, observe one minute silence at 1000 hours, besides offering Fateha for martyrs of Indian occupied Kashmir on the day.”
Just two days earlier, Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari stated at a seminar at Republic University College on the occasion of Youm-e-Tasees Day of Azad Kashmir that “Pakistan needs to aggressively put forward concrete proposals for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute on the basis of the United Nations resolutions.”
The same day Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke at a seminar on Kashmir at the National Press Club and stated that all of Pakistan “was united on Kashmir issue which was also a main component of Pakistan’s foreign policy.”
Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa while on a visit to the Line of Control echoed these views and reaffirmed that “the Kashmir issue continues to be a “core unresolved agenda” and warned against “misadventure” against his country.”
This recent announcement of an additional Kashmir Day – we already celebrate Kashmir Solidarity Day on February 5 every year – is only aimed at raising the temperature within Pakistan. It will not result in Pakistan obtaining any international support, and will certainly not help the Kashmiris.

Memo saga heads in different direction

Syed Yahya HussainyAlthough the anti-PPP publicists have renewed their claims about Mansoor Ijaz’s version of events about the memo saga looking very believable, the ruling party remains confident that this will be just another example of over-enthusiastic PPP haters celebrating the government’s difficulties while using the shoulder of the judiciary.

“Already, what started out as an issue expected to bring down the Zardari government has been reduced to a ‘get Husain Haqqani’ campaign,” said one observer.

Instead of the facts about writing of the memo, the conduct of Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, and the memo commission’s insistence that he return to Pakistan instead of being allowed to record his statement by videoconference have now become the main topics of discussion.

Mansoor Ijaz has so far not handed over his BlackBerry handset for forensic examination, Haqqani’s illness has given him an additional reason besides personal security concerns to say he cannot return to Pakistan right now. And the issue of equal treatment for the two witnesses before the commission has yet to be settled by the Supreme Court.

Even the claim by anti-PPP hardliners that Haqqani’s missing BlackBerry handsets could pose a national security threat indirectly supports Haqqani’s position that his handsets could not be handed over even if found.

PPP supporters say that even after the subdued appearance of former ISI chief Lt General (r) Ahmed Shuja Pasha before the memo commission and the critical remarks by commission members about Haqqani, there is just not enough evidence to substantiate the story that is believed by few people other than those who have persisted with supporting Mansoor Ijaz’s stupendous claims.

The memo saga started unfolding in October last year, with some forces making it a high stakes game for the government. It slowed down in the middle and now towards its conclusion seems set to witness another twist with stakes rising for the other side and possibly Haqqani, government supporters say.

Haqqani has now thrown the ball in the court of the highest esteem, asking it to provide him equal treatment when it comes to deposing before the memo commission and facilitate him to do so through a video link from London or Washington. Sources say this move has the backing of the top PPP leadership, which wants to create a new issue that can be used in its long-running battle with the judiciary.

While on the face of it, the memo commission is asking questions about Haqqani’s alleged non-compliance with its orders, it has to be prepared for questions that might be asked about its impartiality, especially at the international level. The memo commission was tasked by the Supreme Court to collect evidence and it gave the facility of recording statement by video link to Mansoor Ijaz on grounds that his life would be threatened by travelling to Pakistan.

Now Haqqani has taken the same position, asking the Supreme Court to consider threats to his life equally seriously to the threats claimed by Mansoor Ijaz, a US national.

The Supreme Court will most likely hear Haqqani’s petition when his lawyer Asma Jahangir returns on April 16 from her travels abroad. Until then, the memo commission will most likely continue to push Haqqani’s lawyers to ask him to appear before the commission and demand other actions from Haqqani. The former ambassador, however, will seek protection of the age-old principle that the onus of proving guilt lies with the accusers and if guilt has not been proved and no legal criminal proceedings initiated against Haqqani, the memo commission’s findings have little significance except to generate media headlines.

In any case, legal experts point out that the commission is a fact-finding probe and not a court conducting a trial. Its job is to find out what may have happened and not to ascribe guilt or innocence as no FIR has been registered, no charges have been filed and it is not even clear if any law has been violated by anyone. After PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s emotional speech on his grandfather’s death anniversary reminding everyone that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sentenced to death as a result of a wrong decision by the judiciary, the PPP is willing to engage in a legal-political battle with the judges of the superior courts.

It is in that background that Haqqani had written a letter to the chief justice, which has been kept confidential, though the court said that such letters should not be directly written to the court.

At the beginning of the memo case, a letter by a Pakistani-Canadian had been turned into a petition by the court. The ruling party plans on highlighting every incident where the judiciary’s attitude towards the PPP is different from that towards other parties, sources say.

Haqqani’s lawyers assert that the media trial against him even without any charges being filed or proof being put on record has created an extremely hostile environment for him in Pakistan. Hostility towards the former ambassador can be found among extremist groups as well as in the ranks of the state machinery, which would be expected to protect him. The then ISI DG, they say, rushed to judgement based on only one meeting with Mansoor Ijaz showing how vulnerable Haqqani might be upon immediate return to Pakistan.

Even during his statement, General Pasha did not go beyond reiterating what he had already said in his affidavit before the Supreme Court in January.

He offered no evidence independent of Mansoor Ijaz’s claims, which he says he believed.

He agreed with Haqqani’s lawyer during cross-examination that Mansoor Ijaz was anti-Pakistan and anti-ISI. While some may find comfort in Pasha appearing before the commission as a sign of the case building up against Haqqani, his statement added little to the claims of Mansoor Ijaz in terms of proving anything.

According to Haqqani’s lawyers, the memo commission has a huge issue at hand, which cannot be dealt with by making remarks about Haqqani’s refusal to appear in person or raising questions about his health. Contrary to the perceptions built up over the months, Mansoor Ijaz’s statement that was seen as the key to the whole issue had proved very weak and uncorroborated in terms of the law of evidence.

Mansoor Ijaz admitted that he had no email or BBM message from Haqqani regarding the memo and his entire claim rests on linking BBM messages to telephone conversations. In his own written statement, Haqqani has given a totally different account of the same phone calls, which he says were just a small part of hundreds of phone calls he made in May 2011.

General Pasha said in his cross-examination that while Mansoor Ijaz showed him BBM screen shots, he refused to hand over to him any evidence.

Several of Mansoor Ijaz’s statements before the commission have been challenged by people not directly connected to the memo affair, raising questions about whether memogate’s star witness has a habit of exaggerating and manipulating communication.

Former US president Bush’s adviser, David Frum, wrote an article in Newsweek and The Daily Beast saying Mansoor Ijaz had “lied” before the commission about sending him a legal notice over his criticism against the American businessman of Pakistani origin.

Haqqani’s lawyers say that the commission also has to decide if it can rely on the testimony of a witness who made some laughable claims during the proceedings. Many of such claims even the commission had to reject as unverified and unreliable. Take for example the transcripts of communication between US helicopters and Pakistani ATC on May 2, 2011, as well as claimed communication between two high offices in Pakistan. General Pasha effectively supported Haqqani’s written statement when he said that there was no likelihood of a coup in May 2011, contrary to the claims of Mansoor Ijaz.

It is also now becoming apparent that the commission might not go ahead with the idea of expensive forensics examination of Mansoor Ijaz’s BlackBerry handset. The head of the commission commented at one hearing that forensics examination is not required at this stage. Sources say most experts in London approached by the commission’s secretary expressed inability to verify the data as suggested by Mansoor Ijaz and widely believed by his supporters.

This is the reason that the commission is once again relying on putting pressure on Haqqani to voluntarily write to Research in Motion (RIM) to secure verification of Mansoor Ijaz’s data.

A valid question that arises from this demand is how anyone can order someone to do something that is meant to be voluntary and would RIM treat as voluntary a letter that is written under orders.

The memo commission had started its proceedings by targeting BlackBerry manufacturers, RIM, to provide it with data.

Mansoor Ijaz and his lawyer had claimed that RIM could provide all the records but it was discovered later that RIM does not maintain records of communications beyond three months. It seems on the issue of forensics too, the presumptions of those who wanted to hang Haqqani, and even President Asif Zardari, on the basis of examination of BlackBerry handsets are discovering that it might not be easy to prove Mansoor Ijaz’s claims through forensics either.

Meanwhile, Haqqani has submitted complete and unedited detailed itemised telephone bills for both his BlackBerry handsets for the entire year of 2011.

Lawyers say, these records prove his assertion that Mansoor Ijaz was a “peripheral” acquaintance and not a friend. For example, in May 2011, Haqqani’s phone bills show 875 incoming and outgoing phone calls on his two telephone numbers, only four of which are to or from Mansoor Ijaz’s number.

Similarly, there are 1,321 text and data items on the bills for May 2011, when Ijaz says he sent the disputed memo, and his number represents a miniscule part of these exchanges.

From the PPP’s point of view, Haqqani is just the right person to create negative perceptions about the judiciary at the international level. The former ambassador is widely supported in the US and western countries even though he has been criticised at home. The Supreme Court’s decision to bar him from travelling abroad was criticised by Haqqani’s international supporters, including the International Commission of Jurists.

Even if Haqqani fails to get the Supreme Court to support his request for recording statement by video link, the PPP leadership will be able to exploit this in creating negative perceptions about the judiciary internationally, sources claim.

On the face of it, Haqqani has simply sought legal redress by approaching the Supreme Court. The opportunity for him to seek the intervention of the Supreme Court was provided by the memo commission. In its proceedings on March 18, when Haqqani was present in London and had requested that his statement be recorded there and then, the commission had taken a position that it was the Supreme Court that had bound Haqqani to be present in Islamabad, and that the commission did not have the competence to undo that.

Thus the commission opened the gate for seeking further interpretation of the Supreme Court order of January 30, 2012. Haqqani might gain most by closing the chapter of memogate even if it entails coming to Pakistan and recording his statement. But the PPP leadership is relishing the opportunity of showing how its opponents rushed to judgement and involved the judiciary in the matter. The memo commission’s adverse remarks about Haqqani, his supporters say, will only benefit him in proving that the commission was predisposed negatively towards him.

Ironically, it is now the PPP leaders who want memogate to drag on so that there are more and more negative international comments about the judiciary and alleged violations of Haqqani’s rights are made an international issue to embarrass the party’s opponents.

This piece was published in Daily Times on 11 April 2012.

Memo commission goes on wild goose chase

Syed Yahya HussainyDespite glaring contradictions and absurdities in the testimony of Mansoor Ijaz, the man who instigated the memo issue, the judicial commission of inquiry appointed by the Supreme Court continues to take him seriously. The international media has stopped even covering the memo issue and within the Pakistani media only an English language newspaper edited by a US-based friend of Mansoor Ijaz reports on him as if he were a serious witness.

Starting off with claims of delivering an unsigned memo under instructions of former ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, the testimony of Mansoor Ijaz ended with claims of intelligence services from four countries – whom he is unwilling to name – confirming to him that there was a serious threat of a military coup in Pakistan after the May 2, 2011 US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. The commission did not ask the obvious question:

Why would intelligence agencies from four countries report to Mansoor Ijaz? What is he, M from James Bond movies?

The commission was created as a fact-finding body, not as a court trying anyone for a crime. It cannot, therefore, be content with allowing witnesses to make statements and be cross-examined by counsel of various petitioners who brought the case to the Supreme Court or respondents who were named in the original petition. It should get into ascertaining the facts itself. But so far Mansoor Ijaz, who is testifying from London because he lives at an unidentified address in Europe, has been allowed to get away with giving his family’s address in the United States (2236 Archer Road, Shawsville, Virginia 24073) as his address even though he has not lived there for years.

With characteristic flair and flamboyance, Mansoor Ijaz claimed that he had access to transcripts of conversations between President Zardari and General Kayani right after the bin Laden raid. He also had an email, once again from someone whom he cannot name, about the conversation between Pakistan’s Air Traffic Control and the US helicopters undertaking the raid in Abbottabad to get Osama bin Laden. He won’t tell us how he got these “documents” and the “documents” have no markings to indicate their origin or authorship. Now all we need is another petition before the Supreme Court and another commission to delve into the origin, authenticity and purpose of all the anonymous documents produced by Mansoor Ijaz.

The Washington Post not long ago described Mansoor Ijaz as the “Quixotic character in a spy novel that he had written himself.” His testimony proves that description as apt. Interestingly, the non-descript email address used by Mansoor Ijaz to send the draft of the memo to Husain Haqqani, by his own claim, was ussh007@gmail.com. Talk about wanting to be a spy, just like the movies. No wonder Haqqani did not take the email seriously or didn’t bother reading or replying to it.

During cross-examination, Mansoor Ijaz spoke about how ISI Director General Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha travelled to several countries, trying to secure support for a military coup. If he knew that from May and believed it, how does Ijaz square that with his willingness to trust Pasha in October with details of his May mission of delivering a memo on behalf of the civilians he wanted saved from the coup? General Pasha must also be regretting meeting Ijaz and giving him credence but that is another subject altogether.

Mansoor Ijaz makes a big deal of the fact that he has submitted his BlackBerry handsets and phone bills to the commission while Husain Haqqani has not. The commission’s head appears fascinated by this technical data. But the phone bills only confirm who called whom and at what time for what duration. How can this piece of ‘evidence’ shed any light on what was said during those telephone conversations?

The newspaper that still wants Ijaz’s testimony to somehow bring the elected government down claimed recently that the telephone bills submitted by Ijaz ‘confirmed’ that US General James Jones, who forwarded Ijaz’s memo and is the only former US official with whom Ijaz was directly in contact about his memo, lied when he claimed Ijaz had spoken to him a few days before May 9, 2011 – the day Ijaz first spoke to Haqqani. In fact, that is not the case. Ijaz’s telephone bills confirm he spoke to General Jones on May 9 but there is no way of confirming if the two spoke earlier as well or not. Ijaz could have called Jones from another phone number just as he says Haqqani called him from an “unidentified phone number” once. No one’s life revolves just around their BlackBerry or a single phone line.

Ijaz admits that he stopped using the particular BlackBerry set he used to communicate with Haqqani in May on July 4, 2011. This should point to changing of handsets being normal, just as Haqqani changed his BlackBerry sets later in the year. But for Ijaz, the man who deals with two dozen intelligence agencies around the world, his changing handsets is normal while someone else doing the same amounts to attempting to conceal evidence. What evidence? The well laid out story linking telephone conversations whose content cannot be proved with BlackBerry messages that make no mention of the memo or its subject. In fact, the only BBM messages that talk about the coup went from Ijaz to Haqqani by Ijaz’s own account.

In his statement before the commission, Mansoor Ijaz claimed that he never told Haqqani that he was transmitting the message he claims originated from Haqqani through General Jones. According to Ijaz, he “made modifications to the body text of the email to ensure that nothing could be traced to General Jones. This was done so that Haqqani does not find out who I was writing to and who was my contact.” Talk about acting out spy fantasies.

But the man he was protecting even from Haqqani according to his claim came out denying Ijaz’s account. If General Jones is or was closer to Haqqani than Ijaz, what was the need for the whole cloak and dagger operation in the first place? Other than Mansoor Ijaz’s vain desire to be part of something important and to be a character in his own spy novel?

Another interesting part of Mansoor Ijaz’s testimony is where he says of his contact with Haqqani after May. “On June 3, 2011 an article written by me was published in the weekly magazine Newsweek which is owned by the organisation The Daily Beast. Upon publication of the said article Haqqani contacted me and commented about its contents. We remained in contact till June 22, 2011 and I did not hear nor contact him again till early September 2011, when I received a message from him which I no longer retain, stating that he was intending to leave his office and was reaching out to his friends for their support.”

Why, one may ask, is this particular exchange of messages from September not retained by Mansoor Ijaz who has retained so many messages, including ‘Ping’ and ‘Okay’ from May on his BlackBerry handset and its backup on his computer? Was retaining the exchanges from May deliberate so that they could serve the purpose of weaving a story around them while the latter messages are being revealed verbally only because critics, like me, have asked why Ijaz did not stay in touch with Haqqani after undertaking such an important “mission” on his behalf in May? Apparently, a “crucial” PIN message from Ijaz to Haqqani is also missing according to Ijaz’s statement.

If saving PIN and BBM messages (which, by the way, is the only function of the BlackBerry handset for which the set’s PIN No is relevant) is subjective and if data can be altered or deleted then how does the Commission expect to resolve the question of how the memo was written based solely on BlackBerry handset data? It is true that a witness sitting in London and talking to judges through video link can be impressive, especially when he shows how he has technical means such as a BlackBerry handset to “confirm” what he claims. But given that our judiciary is not always technology savvy it should be careful in deferring to experts, preferably not ones proposed by one of the parties.

During the memo commission’s hearing on Friday, the commission asked its secretary to approach forensics experts named by Mustafa Ramday, counsel for Mian Nawaz Sharif. If the commission was to identify totally independent experts it would learn that alteration of BlackBerry handset data over time as well as in retrieving it from a computer back up is a definite possibility. In fact, one of the expert witnesses from FIA who testified before the commission on January 9 tried to explain that to the commission but was scolded by the commission’s head because he was explaining things too technically.

Haqqani’s lawyers will probably grill Mansoor Ijaz during cross-examination but knowing Ijaz, he will have a story to further his original story. After all, here is a man who managed to borrow money from a San Marino bank by telling them he had an Indian family’s backing of $50 million without ever naming the family. Ijaz recently threatened to “deal” with newspapers and blogs that “slandered” him but has not denied the substance of articles that say he may have exaggerated his fortune to claim uber-wealthy status without really being that wealthy. His claims about unnamed US officials threatening him about testifying before the memo commission is as ludicrous as his claim about getting information from unnamed intelligence officials in four unnamed countries.

Just as Mansoor Ijaz’s investors are unnamed so are his sources in his art-time occupation of super-spy. In 2003, journalist Richard Miniter, in a book titled “Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror,” quoted Clinton administration officials who did not take Ijaz up on any of his offers to help get Osama bin Laden out of Sudan between August 1996 and 1998 because they viewed him as “a Walter Mitty living out a personal fantasy.” The US 9/11 Commission, which interviewed Ijaz, concluded that were was no “credible evidence” that the Sudanese had made any offer to hand over bin Laden.

According to Wikipedia, Walter Mitty is a fictional character in James Thurber’s short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” first published in the New Yorker on March 18, 1939, and in book form in My World and Welcome to It in 1942. It was made into a film in 1947. Mitty is a meek, mild man with a vivid fantasy life: in a few dozen paragraphs he imagines himself a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and a devil-may-care killer. The character’s name has come into more general use to refer to an ineffectual dreamer, appearing in several dictionaries. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as “an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs.”

Mansoor Ijaz has had many incarnations as Walter Mitty. In a 2004 interview with Fox News, Ijaz made the sensational claim: Chemical warheads were being smuggled into Iraq for a potentially catastrophic attack against American troops. He claimed that the whole plan was given the green light by hardline Iranian mullahs. According to CNN analyst Peter Bergen, “The story had everything to attract attention – Mad mullahs! WMD on the loose in Iraq! (At last!) And the threat of thousands of potential American casualties.”

Ijaz told Fox in 2003 that “eyewitness sources” placed Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Iran. When host Brit Hume asked about the source of the claim, Ijaz replied, “I can just tell you that the source is unimpeachable. It is from inside Iran. These are eyewitness accounts.”

By 2006, Mansoor “Walter Mitty” Ijaz had adopted the description of a “US nuclear proliferation and terrorism expert.” In that capacity he told Gulf News newspaper that Iran not only had a nuclear bomb, it was seeking to “duplicate them in large numbers before revealing their existence to the world.” Six years later, Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon has still not materialised.

Tasked by the Pakistan Supreme Court to determine the origins, authenticity and purpose of Mansoor Ijaz’s memo to US Admiral Michael Mullen, the memo commission has bent over backwards to secure Ijaz’s testimony. But shouldn’t the commission look into the antecedents of the man before continuing a wild goose chase based on his phone bills, web of BlackBerry messages and emails, most of which either conceal the source or have unidentifiable intelligence agencies as sources.

With only Mansoor Ijaz as the explainer-in-chief, the memo story has already caused Husain Haqqani’s resignation and the army’s humiliation as a failed coup-maker. Let us hope it does not make our honourable judges look like people easily swayed by a fictional spy thriller just because it contained a lot of technical mumbo jumbo.

This piece was originally published by Daily Times on 4th March 2012.

Pakistan’s Latest Political Trial

Pakistan’s security establishment has a history of using politically motivated trials to get rid of inconvenient civilian governments. Most famously, Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s 1977 coup was finalised when a military court sentenced Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to death following what international officials dismissed as a mock trial fought in a Kangaroo court. Troublingly, there are reasons to worry that Pakistan may be witnessing another political trial against a democratically elected civilian government.

This latest chapter began with American businessman Mansoor Ijaz’s claim that Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, acting on the direction of the country’s president, sought American support for replacing Pakistan’s military leadership in order to prevent a possible coup. Mr. Ijaz, whose bizarre claims have been strongly questioned by the international media, has found himself an unlikely celebrity in Pakistan where his years of accusing Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies of facilitating international terrorism have been largely ignored in favour of his allegations against democratically elected civilian officials.

Despite serious questions about the accuser’s credibility, a media circus erupted over the issue. The first casualty of Ijaz’s allegations was Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, who was driven to resign despite an absence of formal evidence suggesting his involvement. At the time of this writing, Pakistan is still operating without a permanent Ambassador to the world’s most powerful nation.

In response to the media uproar, Prime Minister Gilani announced a parliamentary commission to investigate the issue, only to have the rug pulled out from under him by the judiciary when the Chief Justice accepted a petition by opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and announced that the Supreme Court would hold its own investigation, further ordering the country’s civilian and military officials to respond within 15 days.

Asad Jamal, a Lahore-based advocate of the high court, reviewed the Supreme Court’s justification for taking up the issue and found the decision completely outside the constitutional jurisdiction of the court.

The irony of Nawaz Sharif presenting the petition before the court was not lost on Pakistanis as Mr Sharif himself has been convicted by multiple courts on charges ranging from corruption to highjacking and terrorism. The cases were well known to be politically motivated, and many of the convictions were later overturned citing lack of evidence.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about Nawaz Sharif’s latest legal gambit is that not only has the former Prime Minister himself been the subject of judicial persecution, but he has even been accused of the same charges that he is now petitioning the court to investigate.

According to Shaheen Sehbai, an editor at The News (Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper) reported in 1998 that Nawaz Sharif and his emissaries held secret meetings with U.S. government officials during which they asked the Americans for support in changing the military leadership who they suspected of plotting a coup. In return, Nawaz Sharif allegedly promised to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and task the ISI with supporting CIA operations to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. The following year, the government fell in a military coup and Nawaz Sharif found himself hauled before a court and quickly handed a life sentence. Sound familiar?

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has already placed Husain Haqqani on the nation’s Exit Control List (ECL), barring him from travel despite the fact that he vehemently denies the allegations leveled against him, returned to Pakistan of his own free will, and has yet to be formally charged with any wrongdoing. In contrast, the court has not taken any position on his accuser, Mansoor Ijaz, who has made nearly daily appearances in the Pakistani media repeating his allegations.

Though this latest episode in Pakistan’s political history is unfolding in deeply troubling ways, there are reasons to hold out hope. The judicial inquiry suffered its first setback when the man appointed by the court to head the commission, former Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency, Tariq Khosa, refused to take part.

And Husain Haqqani himself is not without significant supporters in Pakistan’s legal community. After reviewing the merits of the case, Asma Jahangir — one of Pakistan’s leading human rights advocates and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association — offered to defend Haqqani before the court. As compensation, she is asking only 4,000 Rupees — about $45.

Still, many in Pakistan and abroad are watching the proceedings anxiously. If Pakistan holds democratic elections as planned in 2013, it will be a historic moment for the country when the next government forms. Not once has Pakistan seen a transition between consecutive democratically elected governments. More often, we have seen the democratic process derailed by a misguided judiciary. Let’s hope history is not repeating itself.