Ex-chief's deposition opens up Pandora's Box
A recent hearing on a petition against an illegal disbursement of money to politicians and individuals brings to light the dirty role of Pakistan's controversial spy agency ISI.
The petition was filed by Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan against money doling up to anti-Benazir Bhutto politicians in 1990 allegedly from the establishment through the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
It came up for hearing before the Pakistan Supreme Court on February 29. The case was, however, adjourned because of the absence of certain key witnesses, the Dubai-based Khaleej Times reported in its issue of March 3.
The chief justice said notices must be issued to former ISI chief Gen Asad Durrani and former chief of Mehran Bank Younus Habib to appear before the court at the next hearing on March 8.
The report based on earlier court statements says Durrani, by his own admission, had directly delivered the money to politicians and groups as ordered by the “boss” -- the then army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg.
In turn, Gen Beg had named the “chief executive” (former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan) for “supervising the entire exercise”, the newspaper writes.
“Its sinister purpose was to defeat the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) under Benazir Bhutto in the 1990 elections. A total of Rs 140 million was disbursed after Mehran Bank illegally advanced it to the ISI account.”
The events combined, in which millions of Pakistani rupees were paid to politicians and political parties using the spy agency, is widely known as the Mehran bank scandal, also Mehrangate.
“Another Rs 50 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 Khaleej Times adds.
The exact text of any court statement of the ex-spy boss was not available and The Daily Star could not verify whether BNP chief Khaleda Zia had received money from the ISI.
However, the Pakistani media elaborately wrote about Pakistani politicians and professionals who received ISI money.
Durrani in his testimony gave details of amounts given to each leader.
The Pakistani news service, News Online, said former DG ISI Asad Durrani in an affidavit submitted before the apex court recently admitted to having disbursed money to Mian Nawaz Sharif (Rs 3.5 million), Lt General Rafaqat, who was head of ex-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan's election cell (Rs5.6 million), late Mir Afzal Khan (Rs 10 million), ex-PM late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi (Rs5 million), late Jam Sadiq Ali (Rs 5 million), late ex-PM Mohammed Khan Junejo (Rs 2.5 million), late Pir Pagaro (Rs 2 million), lawyer Abdul Hafeez Pirzada (Rs 3 million), ex-governor Sindh Yusuf Haroon (Rs 5 million) which he confirmed having received for Altaf Hussain of the MQM, Muzaffar Hussain Shah (Rs0.3 million), Syeda Abida Hussain (Rs 1 million), Humayun Marri (Rs 5.4 million) and Jamaat-e-Islami (Rs 5 million), among other individuals and groups.
Most of these individuals and political parties have denied receiving any money from the ISI.
On March 8, Mehran Bank chief Younus Habib made a statement before the Supreme Court, saying he was forced by former president late Ghulam Ishaq Khan and former army chief Aslam Beg to arrange Rs 340 million in the “supreme national interest”, the leading Pakistani daily Dawn reports.
According to Habib's statement, Rs 140 million was paid through Gen Aslam Beg to politicians -- Rs 70m to former Sindh chief minister Jam Sadiq Ali who was provided another Rs 150m (from Mehran Bank's funds) for arranging licence to set up Mehran Bank, Rs 15m to Pir Pagaro through Jam Sadiq, Rs 70m to Younus Memon on the instructions of Ishaq Khan and Gen Beg for the politicians who wished not to receive the money directly from the ISI. Some of the money was also dished out to the Army Welfare Trust.
Also on March 8, in his latest statement submitted before the apex court, Durrani said he had used the Military Intelligence (MI) for the disbursement of the money deposited by Younus Habib, according to The News International, Pakistan.
In his original affidavit of 1994, Durrani had revealed, “In September 1990 as DG ISI, I received instructions from the then COAS General Mirza Aslam Beg to provide 'logistic support' to the disbursement of donations made by some businessmen of Karachi to the election campaign of IJI [Islami Jamhoori Ittehad]. I was told that the operation had the blessings of the government.”
Now after 18 years of his initial affidavit, Durrani in his two-page statement submitted before the apex court on March 8, said, “Mr Yunus Habib did deposit Rs 140 million in various branches in the accounts opened, on my orders…”
The Supreme Court bench had taken up the 1996 petition of Tehrik-i-Istiqlal chief Asghar Khan accusing the ISI of financing several politicians during the 1990 elections to create the IJI and prevent Benazir Bhutto's PPP from winning.
On March 8, two sealed documents, one comprising a report by a commission tasked to review the working of security and intelligence agencies, were opened in court.
The other document contained two audio-cassettes and unsigned statements/cross-examination of Maj-Gen (retd) Naseerullah Babar and Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani recorded during an in-camera session of the court.
A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain and Justice Tariq Parvez accepted Younus Habib's sworn handwritten statement that he read loudly in open court.
Younus Habib said Gen Beg and ISI's Brigadier Hamid Saeed had provided a number of certain accounts in certain banks for depositing the amount while the counterfoil of the deposit slip had been handed over to one Colonel Akbar.
Both Gen Beg and Asad Durrani were in court, quietly listening to Habib's affidavit, the Dawn reports.
“In all I was asked to arrange Rs 350 million by the former president and the army chief before the 1990 general elections,” said Habib while reading out the affidavit.
Habib said he had told them that arranging such a huge amount was not possible through legal means for which he had to manipulate the system. At this, Ishaq Khan told him that he would have to do whatever he could for the “national cause”.
Habib submitted a photograph, along with his affidavit, in which he is seen with former president Ishaq Khan and a uniformed army officer having conversation with Gen Beg. The court made the photograph part of the record.
The March 3 report of Khaleej Times says the ISI brought together various conservative and religious parties and groups under the banner of IJI to collectively face the PPP. It effectively checked the Benazir tide in 1988, denying her an absolute majority.
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 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 a bad name for incompetence and corruption.