After a very long wait the petition filed by Air Marshal Asghar Khan against funds doled out by the establishment through the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to a select group of anti-Benazir Bhutto politicians in 1990 finally came up for hearing before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The case was, however, adjourned because of absence of certain key witnesses amid warning by the Chief Justice that notices must be issued to former chief of ISI Gen. Asad Durani, and former chief of Mehran Bank Younus Habib to appear before the court in the next hearing on March 8. By his own admission, Gen. Durrani had directly delivered the money to individual politicians and groups including Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif as ordered by the “boss”, meaning the then army chief Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg. In turn Gen. Beg had named the ‘chief executive’ (President Ghulam Ishaq Khan) for supervising the entire exercise. Nobody thought of ethnical or legal violations of their secret proceedings. Its sinister purpose was to defeat the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under Benazir Bhutto in the 1990 elections. A total of Rs140 million was disbursed after Mehran Bank illegally advanced it to the ISI account. Another Rs50 million was allegedly paid to Bangladesh’s Khalida Zia to help her in polls against Hasina Wajid’s Awami League generally perceived by Pakistan’s security establishment as pro-India.
The ISI had brought together various conservative and religious parties and groups under the banner of Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) to collectively face the PPP. It effectively checked the Benazir tide in 1988 denying her absolute majority. She got 92 seats against 54 by the IJI while 102 votes were needed to form the government. In Punjab, the major battleground, the IJI got 109 seats against 105 of the PPP while 44 were elected as independent. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan withheld invitation to Benazir to try to constitute a coalition until Nawaz Sharif succeeded in luring the independents to lead the provincial government. Ishaq Khan finally dismissed Benazir government in less than two years and ordered fresh elections in 1990 for which financial support was provided to IJI politicians. Apart from that, arrangement to completely demolish the PPP was tightened by establishing an election cell in the Presidency under Gen. Rifaqat. Benazir could get only a limited number of seats from Sindh and helplessly declared that the elections were massively “stolen”. It is a shameful chapter in country’s history in which the ‘troika’ of President, prime minister and army chief joined hands to secure desired results through brazenly dubious means. Gen. Durrani and Gen. Beg acted in direct contravention of their oath and willingly obeyed illegal orders.
Asghar Khan filed a petition against the illegal disbursement of funds to the IJI politicians. Gen. Durrani in his testimony gave details of amounts given to each leader. The court reserved further action after recording initial evidence. The resurrection of the case has vindicated Supreme Court’s credentials as a neutral and independent entity not leaning against or towards any party. The court is unlikely to punish anybody but would once again expose the interference of security establishment in political matters in violation of the constitution. Imran, who has pressed for revival of the case, apparently wants to retaliate against PML-N for its campaign against him that he is being propped up by the ISI. The case will instead expose Sharif and his allies for receiving money from agencies. It will also show to the nation how the establishment operates to ensure that political system does not stabilise.
Former ISI chief Gen. Hamid Gul unabashedly takes credit for fathering the IJI in 1988 to stem Benazir’s tide. “She would have swept the polls,” he once admitted. A weak coalition under Benazir became an easy prey for Ishaq Khan to be sent home packing within less than two years. The decade of 1990s saw similarly fragile arrangements alternating after every two years and being dispensed with by the president in collaboration with the army chief. Democracy was thus not allowed to take firm roots and was given bad name for incompetence and corruption.
The Supreme Court has been persistently dared and even criticised by the PPP for reluctance to take up the petition because it targets the security agencies and their once favourite politician Nawaz Sharif. Imran recently moved the court to revive the hearing. Theoretically such a hearing has only a historical importance and provides an opportunity for exposing Shairf. But the recourse to past history only diverts attention from real issues confronting the people.
Winston Churchill had once warned politicians: “I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself.” While Imran will be able to avenge the ‘campaign of vilification’ launched against him by Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N that he is being propelled by the ISI, the PPP shall have the opportunity to expose Sharif who continues to target Asif Ali Zardari for his alleged corruption. However, if, beyond these short-term gains, the case serves a higher purpose of ensuring cleaner and untainted politics in the future, the hearing of Asghar Khan’s petition would promote a noble objective.