Ordering a "time-bound" probe into the 'memogate' scandal, Pakistan Supreme Court on Thursday sought responses within 15 days from President Asif Ali Zardari, army and Inter-Services Intelligence chiefs besides others in connection with petitions before it seeking an investigation in to the controversy.
The apex court, ordering the constitution of a probe commission that must finish its work within three weeks, said that former envoy to US Husain Haqqani, forced to resign over the scandal, should not leave the country till its decision is announced.
Responses have also been sought from Haqqani and Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who made the memo public, creating a storm in the political and security set-up in Islamabad.
The order was delivered by a nine-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, which had taken up nine separate petitions seeking a probe into the 'memogate' controversy.
Zardari, Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and ISI head Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha and others were named as respondents in a petition filed by former premier and Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Nawaz Sharif, who had sought a speedy investigation into the matter.
Sharif had told the apex court that the issue should be probed as it raised important questions related to Pakistan's national security and sovereignty. The apex court said the probe commission could be headed by former Federal Investigation Agency chief Tariq Khosa, who led the investiagtion into the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
However, the bench noted that this would depend on Khosa's assent to lead the panel. The court said a cyber expert could be made part of the commission to examine evidence linked to the secret memo.
The commission was asked to complete its investigation in three weeks.
The apex court also accepted Sharif's plea that Haqqani should not be allowed to leave Pakistan till the probe is completed. It said the Foreign and Interior Secretaries would be held responsible if Haqqani left the country.
The court also took note of Interior Minister Rehman Malik's recent remarks that there was evidence of an exchange of SMS and Blackberry messages between Haqqani and Ijaz.
Speaking to reporters outside the Supreme Court, senior PML-N leader Khwaja Asif described the ruling as "historic" and said the bench had directed the commission to conduct a "time-bound probe".
The court has directed that all evidence on the Memogate issue available with the government or intelligence agencies should be provided to the commission, he said.
Earlier, former premier Nawaz Sharif asked the Supreme Court to summon persons such as Zardari and army chief Kayani to get to the bottom of the controversy over the secret memo.
Sharif, wearing a black suit and dark tie, urged the apex court to speedily probe the matter as it had serious implications for national security.
The secret memorandum, made public by Ijaz, had sought US military help to prevent a military take-over in Pakistan in the wake of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.
The memo also committed the Pakistan government to wide-ranging changes in its national security set-up, including the removal of military officials believed to have links to militants.
Sharif told the bench that he had not come to the apex court to level allegations at persons like Zardari but the 'memogate' controversy involved matters of national security.
Noting that the ISI chief had met Ijaz to get details of the matter, Sharif said the persons named in his petition should be called to court and questioned.
Chief Justice Chaudhry observed that the case had criminal and civil aspects.
Referring to the Watergate scandal in the United States, Chaudhry said then President Richard Nixon had been asked by the US Supreme Court to hand over tapes and evidence related to the matter.
The government asked former Ambassador Haqqani to resign to 'facilitate a transparent investigation into the matter'. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has also asked the
Parliamentary Committee on National Security to probe the issue of the secret memo.