ISLAMABAD: When the Supreme Court sought Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf Ali’s assistance in determining what legal backing the bureau has to become ‘private sleuths’, the alleged surveillance of members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) by the government-controlled Intelligence Bureau (IB) was called into question on Monday.

Not content with the IB’s reply in response to the accusations leveled against it by the JIT, the three-judge Supreme Court implementation bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan expressed disapproval of the agency’s role in hacking the Facebook account of a JIT member, lingering around his residence and accessing the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) system to collect his personal data — becoming private investigators instead of working for the state of Pakistan.

The court called attention towards allegations that the IB recovered information to help Hussain Nawaz — the elder son of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — who then used information to file an application before the Supreme Court, emphasizing the leak of his photograph on social media.

IB Director General Aftab Sultan, who also visited the AG’s office after court proceedings on Monday, was requested to make himself available to the court on Tuesday.

In its order, the Supreme Court also asked the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate the role of Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) chairman Zafar Hijazi in the alleged damaging of the record of the Chaudhry Sugar Mills Ltd and asked the agency to submit a heavily detailed report.

The court also saved some criticism for the JIT members and asked them to make a “beeline” towards their objective and complete their job within the specifically ordered time, without getting distracted by what the media or politicians were saying about them.

Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan manifested his concern over indiscriminate leaks to the media, adding that the harassment of JIT members must end, otherwise the court would have to pass “a very unpleasant order”.

Justice Ahsan also deemed the government’s rejoinder an apt example of an “evasive reply”.

However, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed said the court was wounded by the reply submitted by the AG office on behalf of the institutions accused of damaging the records or hampering the JIT’s work. “But then, this was not your personal reply,” the judge observed.

While pointing towards the AG, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan highlighted that the law officer was not representing the government, but appearing in court as the AG for Pakistan.

“You have a different stature and you are not supposed to take sides,” Justice Khan observed abhorring that in his reply, the AG had straightaway denied the allegations without having explored them first.

“We depend on you and value your words — give them credence,” Justice Khan said.

Mr Ali, however, said that he was before the court as the AG, not as someone’s representative. He also pondered over whether the court would not allow an accused to explain his position.

‘Smear campaign’

Justice Khan abhorred that most of the media, and even those who claimed to be representatives of the government or the Sharif family, had settled for damaging reputation. But he was insistent that the court would not be intimidated by such strategies.

“We have perpetually said that we will go by the book and the law,” Justice Khan observed.

“We cannot leave everything at the mercy of the person against whose assets the court had ordered an inquiry when an important case was being probed.”

When the AG read aloud the IB reply, which declared that it was a standard operating procedure to gather intelligence on matters of national importance, Justice Saeed asked whether he (the judge) was also under surveillance.

Justice Ahsan asked the AG to reference any law which allowed the IB to harass the families of JIT members, saying what the IB did was outright harassment. He also wondered why the IB probing the matter when it was the Supreme Court that had appointed the JIT.

“What is the IB’s mandate; does it poke its nose into everything the apex court does?” asked Justice Saeed, pondering over whether the IB chief would be rewarded with an extension after his retirement.

When the AG said that the judges must walk a tightrope, Justice Saeed observed that the court would do so irrespective of the abuse it had to endure.

Justice Ahsan abhorred the biggest campaign set to ruin their reputation. The JIT and the court was being run by the government, adding that eight different people attacked the JIT on a daily basis on different television channels.

At this point, the AG regretted that the court was accusing the government.

“We are taking note of all this and will issue adequate orders later,” the judge said, asking when government institutions developed such shrewdness to deal with publicity that they first denied the accusations leveled against them on camera before filing a reply in court.