Asghar Khan’s petition finally finds its way to SC

-File photo

The Supreme Court has finally taken time out of its very busy schedule to resume hearing of the much-awaited petition filed by Air Martial Asghar Khan (retired) in 1996 on Feb 29.

The petition was on the misuse of public money reportedly disbursed through Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to influence the 1990 election results. A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain and Justice Tariq Parvez will conduct the hearing and the petitioner will be required to appear in person.

Attorney General for Pakistan Maulvi Anwarul Haq will appear on notice. Senior advocates Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, Habib-ul-Wahab-ul-Khairi and Muhammad Akram Sheikh, Salman Akram Raja and others will also appear in the case.

The top legal brains as well as politicians believe that the case will have profound effects on the forthcoming general elections. Moreover, it will be shaking everyone from top to bottom in the executive and military establishment.

In June 1996, Asghar Khan filed a human rights petition with the Supreme Court, making the former Chief of Army Staff General Mirza Muhammad Aslam Beg, former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt-General Asad Durrani and Younis Habib of Habib Bank and Mehran Bank as respondents.

In his petition, Asghar Khan had asked the then Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah to take appropriate action on the statement of the then Interior Minister, Major General Naseerullah Khan Babar (retired) in the National Assembly that: “The ISI collected some Rs140 million from the Habib Bank Ltd and distributed among a number of politicians prior to the 1990 elections with a view to manipulating the results in favour of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI)”.

Syed Sajjad Shah was still hearing the case when he was shown the door in November 1997 following ‘a mutiny’ staged by his fellow judges who were allegedly maneuvered by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Asghar Khan’s case, which is commonly known as Mehrangate scandal will particularly cause a dent the political image of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Besides, lawyers and politicians, civil society activists and even members of the military men believe that the repercussions of Mehrangate scandal have the potential to shake everyone from top to bottom in the executive and military establishment.

In his petition filed through Habib-ul-Wahab-ul-Khairi advocate, Asghar Khan had sought punishment for all politicians who had received funds from the ISI. He had alleged that Rs140 million were distributed among politicians during the regime of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to manipulate and influence the outcome of 1990 election.

The funds were only given to right-wing politicians who would go on to form the IJI, an alliance pitched against the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The IJI ensured the formation of the then PML government headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The affidavits and evidence submitted by respondents before the court and first-hand accounts from the beneficiaries so far substantiate allegations that the ISI disburse funds to elements within the IJI. However, the most important issue after ascertaining guilt is to figure out the options available to the Supreme Court to correct this historical wrong.

Questions that are being raised, albeit in a hushed manner, are whether the court will bar all the guilty politicians and parties from contesting future elections especially since many are still active in politics? What punishment will be given to the former military bosses, who were privy to this exercise and approved its formal operation?

Lastly, what possible observation or ruling can the court come up with to deter the ISI and other intelligence agencies from this practice?

Most of the senior lawyers including Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, Khalid Anwar, Dr Khalid Ranjha, former Justice Tariq Mahmood, Hamid Khan, Barrister Zafarullah Khan and Ikram Chaudhry suggest that the court should constitute a high powered commission not only to investigate the particular incident highlighted by Asghar Khan, but also the other incidents in the history of Pakistan where ISI provided money to politicians. They believe that this is essential for future democracy and national security.

According to the petition, payments of up to Rs140 million were allegedly made under the alleged instructions of General Mirza Aslam Beg by the ISI via the owner of Mehran Bank, Younis Habib.

Intelligence funds were deposited in Mehran Bank in 1992 propping up what was an insolvent bank as a favour to its owners’ for assistance in lending money to the ISI in 1990 that was used for the creation of the right-wing alliance IJI and bankrolling the campaigns of many opponents of the PPP.

In his written reply submitted to the Supreme Court during the tenure of Sajjad Ali Shah and reported by the media, General Aslam Beg had conceded that it had been a routine for the ISI to support favoured candidates in elections under the directives of successive chief executives.

Afterwards, former ISI DG, Lt-Gen Asad Durrani (retired), had conceded in an affidavit submitted with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) that his political cell received Rs140 million from Younis Habib for distribution among anti-PPP politicians at the behest of General Mirza Aslam Beg.

The 1990 general election was subsequently won by the IJI led by Nawaz Sharif, who had allegedly received Rs3.5 million from the ISI fund for his election campaign.