Reopening of Pending Cases
By Mohammad Jamil
The Supreme Court is set to initiate proceedings on 29th February in a case filed by Air Marshal (R) Asghar Khan in 1996 following a statement of former interior minister Naseerullah Babar in the parliament alleging that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had distributed Rs 140 million to the political opponents of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the 1990 general elections. In 1996, initial proceedings of the case began when Justice Sajjad Ali Shah was chief justice of Pakistan. General Aslam Baig, the army chief at the time, had said in a reply to the Supreme Court that former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan had set up an election cell at the Presidency under the supervision of Rodad Khan and Ajlal Haider during the 1990 general elections. He had stated that the ISI, on instructions from the election cell, had paid Rs 140 million to opponents of the PPP, and its approval was granted by not less than former president of Pakistan. Former ISI chief Lt. General (r) Asad Durrani had stated in his affidavit that the money was distributed among politicians on the directives of General (r) Beg, who had received orders from the then chief executive.
The details of payments according to Lt Gen (r) Durrani’s affidavit were: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif got Rs 3.5 million; Mir Afzal Khan got Rs 10 million; Lt. General Rafaqat got Rs 5.6 million for distribution among journalists; Abida Hussain received Rs 1 million; Jamaat-e-Islami got Rs 5 million; Altaf Hussain Qureshi received Rs 500,000; Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi got Rs 5 million; Jam Sadiq got Rs 5 million; Muhammad Khan Junejo received Rs 250,000; Pir Pagara got Rs 2 million; Maulana Salahuddin received Rs 300,000; Humayun Marri got Rs 1.5 million and various small groups in Sindh received Rs 5.4 million in total. The court is likely to ask for the proof/evidence against those who received money from the ISI, and the lawful orders by the competent authority shall be core issue in the court, asking directly, Who ordered the amount to be distributed and with what purpose. The Court could order the ISI to trace back the record and put up evidence beyond reasonable doubt that political leaders/political parties nominated in the case had received the money.
In fact, political environment at that time was so charged with feelings of revenge and settling scores against the opponents that there was no option but to obey the orders of top authority, i.e. President of Pakistan. Defiance of orders at that stage could have led to conflict between the executive and the army, and perhaps leading to another coup/Martial Law. Anyhow, bank records of the recipients may be traced back and exploratory investigation be initiated to collect evidence that money was actually distributed amongst the recipients. Former COAS and former DG ISI should be provided full support to prove their case in the court of law. However, the present army set up and intelligence agencies are not at all responsible for what transpired more than two decades ago though the case was filed in 1996. It is true that because of independence of judiciary and awareness in the civil society, there is demand from all strata of society that the apex court should also reopen other cases of the opposition including Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan’s case whereby politicians including Mian Nawaz Sharif had received millions.
It has to be admitted that the respect the higher judiciary enjoys in Pakistan today is well-deserved and well-earned, and it should be our endeavour to protect, maintain and sustain that honour and respect. To achieve this laudable objective, the Supreme Court has to ensure that there is across the board accountability, and judges do not have any bias against those who had obstructed their reinstatement. Having that said, the problem is that Pakistan Army and ISI are being dragged into courts regarding cases such as the Mehran Bank scandal, issue of missing persons leading to discovery of dead bodies of those claimed to be in official custody and memo-gate case seeking court decision. It has been acknowledged by the ‘actors’ involved in Mehran Bank scandal that the orders for distribution of money to political leaders and party heads came from a civilian head of state through his Election Cell headed by a senior bureaucrat Mr. Roedad Khan, and Pak Army had to obey the orders of civilian authority.
The problem was of politicians’ making, as since 1970s politics in Pakistan has centred around pro-Bhutto and anti-Bhutto phenomena. During 1990s, the PPP and the PML-N twice formed governments but could not complete their terms because they remained busy in instituting cases against each other’s leaders. Our politicians should leave the past behind and stop allegations and insinuations against each other, as none of them is a paragon of political scruples or has moral high ground. It were some of the politicians that were responsible for corrupting the system, and it were they who used to form alliances and then asking the army to rid them of the elected government. Alas! They have not learnt any lesson despite going through ordeal, insults and exiles. The PML-N and PPP are once again on collision course and have reinvented politics of 1990s. On formation of Alliance for Restoration of Democracy and signing of Charter of Democracy between the PML-N and PPP, political pundits had presaged that it was “unity in adversity”, and once their common enemy former president Pervez Musharraf was off the political scene they would again be on each other’s throat.
It is the wish of every Pakistani that Pakistan should find a respectable place in the comity of nations. For this purpose, legislative, executive and judiciary have to put their act together to ensure political stability, to improve law and order situation and establish society free from corruption, nepotism and black marketing. There is no denying that corruption of all descriptions and dimensions has spread like cancer in the structure and vitals of the nation and there is hardly any institution which has not been infested by it. Apart from corruption, it has become more of a norm that politicians, businessmen, jagirdars and industrial robber barons resort to tax evasion, which adversely impacts the allocations for defence and social sector, which makes the country vulnerable to foreign and local detractors of Pakistan. At this point in time, when there are threats to Pakistan’s internal and external security, attention of Pakistan’s military and agencies should not be distracted from the task of protecting the frontiers of the country.
The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.