In a jolt to Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the supreme court on Monday suspended him from the membership of parliament on the ground that he had failed to provide proof of renouncing his British citizenship, raising questions over his continuance as a minister.
A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry issued the interim order while hearing a petition challenging the dual nationality of several members of the two houses of parliament.
The bench had earlier given 60-year-old Malik time until Monday to produce a declaration issued by the United Kingdom Border Agency regarding the renunciation of British citizenship.
Malik's counsel submitted various documents and declarations to the apex court but did not furnish the declaration from the UK Border Agency.
The counsel was given a final opportunity to provide the document by Monday afternoon. When the bench assembled after a recess of an hour, Malik's counsel again failed to submit the declaration.
The court then issued the interim order suspending Malik's membership of the senate or upper house of parliament. The supreme court asked Malik to prove by the next hearing on June 13 that he was not a British citizen when he contested polls to the Senate in 2008.
If he is unable to do so, the court will take further action against him, the order said. The interim order did not state whether Malik could continue as the interior minister.
Legal experts said Malik could not function as a minister after the suspension of his membership of parliament.
In the past, Malik had functioned as a special advisor on Interior to the prime minister before being elected to the senate. Referring to documents submitted by Malik's counsel, the apex court pointed out that one declaration stated Malik had renounced his British citizenship in March 2008 while another stated this was done in April 2008.
The apex court acted against Malik on the basis of Article 63 (1c) of the constitution, which states that a person will be disqualified as a member of parliament if he or she "acquires the citizenship of a foreign state".
Malik had acquired British citizenship while living in self-exile in the UK in the 1990s.
He reportedly has a controlling interest in some businesses in Britain, including a private security firm. The apex court also issued notices on Monday to 14 other parliamentarians accused of having dual nationality, including Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh and senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Khwaja Asif.
They were asked to respond to the notices by June 13. Earlier, the supreme court had suspended the membership of parliament of Farahnaz Ispahani, the media advisor to President Asif Ali Zardari, for holding US citizenship.
During Monday's hearing, Attorney General Irfan Qadir objected to the action taken by the apex court. He said the court should refer the matter to the executive authority as it does not have the power to take action against lawmakers with dual nationality.