By Tarek Fatah
this involves the private messages between two individuals and as such RIM is unlikely to share this data — if it exists — with Pakistan’s Supreme Court
Research in Motion (RIM) and the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad have become the latest actors in the so-called “memogate affair” that observers believe is a slow-motion palace coup by Pakistan’s military aimed at unseating the civilian administration of President Zardari.
In a decision on Friday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the country’s attorney general to demand RIM hand over BBM messages allegedly exchanged between the former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, and American businessman Mansoor Ijaz. The exchanges involve an unsigned memo handed over to to former American Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, requesting U.S. intervention to stave off a military coup in Islamabad.
The latest tug of war between the government of President Zardari and his generals erupted on Oct. 11, 2011 when the Financial Times ran an op-ed titled “Time to take on Pakistan’s Jihadis.”
In the article, Mansoor Ijaz, a Pakistani-American businessman, claimed he was contacted by a Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, and asked to contact Admiral Mullen to prevent a military coup from taking place in Pakistan. The military was outraged and wanted heads to roll. Ijaz wrote:
Early on May 9, a week after U.S. Special Forces stormed the hideout of Osama bin Laden and killed him, a senior Pakistani diplomat telephoned me with an urgent request. Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, needed to communicate a message to White House national security officials that would bypass Pakistan’s military and intelligence channels.
As evidence, the American businessman handed over copies of his alleged BlackBerry message exchanges with Haqqani to Pakistan’s feared military intelligence force, the ISI. On his part, Haqqani categorically denied that he had asked Ijaz to draft any message and dismissed the messages cited by Ijaz as a fabrication.
As a result of the controversy, Ambassador Haqqani — a man not liked by his country’s jihadis, whether civilian or military — was forced to resign his post and ordered back to Pakistan, where he was placed under security watch and barred by the military from leaving the country.
The country’s parliament set up a commission to get to the depth of the matter, but this inquiry was upstaged by opposition politician Nawaz Sharif who took the matter to the country’s Supreme Court that is closely allied to the country’s military generals.
Pakistan Supreme Court
Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that there was merit in the complaint against Haqqani and set up a three-member judicial commission that will report back in four weeks to determine the guilt or innocence of the former Boston University professor and Pakistan’s most prominent diplomat in the last four years.
At the crux of the matter is the authenticity of of the BlackBerry messages that were allegedly exchanged between the two men.
In its decision on Friday, the Pakistani Supreme Court ordered the country’s attorney general to get in touch with Research In Motion in Waterloo, Ontario to secure from RIM the data verifying the validity of the alleged BlackBerry conversation between Haqqani and Ijaz.
In an unprecedented move, the Pakistani Supreme Court stepped beyond its jurisdiction to direct the Canadian High Commissioner in Islamabad, ordering it to facilitate in the securing the data from RIM.
In August 2010, Research In Motion was pressured by the Indian government to allow it access to data exchanged on its BBM messenger service. RIM resisted that pressure and the two parties came to a resolution. However, that involved BlackBerry messages within India, not overseas.
RIM ended up ready to compromise on the privacy of corporate customers to placate Indian regulators. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates too threatened to shut off BlackBerry services unless RIM opened its encrypted client data for the sake of national security.
However, in this case, the alleged exchanges between the Pakistani Ambassador and the American businessman were conducted in the United States, not Pakistan. Unlike the Indian request, this involves the private messages between two individuals and as such RIM is unlikely to share this data — if it exists — with Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
In addition, the Supreme Court ordered former ambassador Husain Haqqani to not leave the country, thus placing him in virtual house arrest. Haqqani, fearing for his life at the hands of the military and jihadis, has now taken refuge inside the Prime Minister’s residence in Islamabad.
Dark day for Pakistan
Haqqani’s counsel in the case, prominent human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir reacted with shock at the Supreme Court decision, labelling it a “dark day” for the country’s judiciary.
Ms. Jahangir a former president of the country’s Supreme Court Bar Association and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, said the decision was evidence Pakistan’s civilian government had for all practical purposes come under the thumb of the army.
Speaking to the media outside the Supreme Court on Friday, Ms. Jehangir said that the court’s judgment in the “memogate scandal” had forced her to wonder whether Pakistan’s judiciary represented the people of Pakistan or the country’s (military) establishment.
Two days later Jahangir announced that in protest at the high-handedness of the Pakistan Supreme Court, she was stepping down as counsel for Husain Haqqani. She alleged the judges of the Supreme Court were acting “under the influence of the [Military] establishment” and not in the cause of justice or due process.
A noose around Haqqani’s neck
She told Karachi’s DAWN Television she was stepping down because the only outcome left was a noose around Haqqani’s neck. She said:
“If nine judges of the Supreme Court can be under their [military] influence, then I am sorry to say I cannot have any expectations from three judges, who are subordinate to the same Supreme Court judges.””Should we close our eyes? Should we allow ourselves to be fooled?… I have told my client [Haqqani] he can appear before the commission if he wishes to — and he will go–but I have no confidence at all in the [judicial] commission.”