A tribute to the late Asghar Khan?
The Supreme Court (SC) has resurrected the famous Asghar Khan case yet again. In its hearing on May 7, 2018, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar rejected the review petitions filed by former COAS General (retd) Mirza Aslam Baig and former ISI chief Lt-General (retd) Asad Durrani against the SC’s short order of October 19, 2012 in the instant case. The court was keen to know what if anything had been done vis-à-vis the implementation of the SC’s detailed judgement of November 8, 2012, in which the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) was ordered to initiate proceedings against the politicians who had allegedly received Rs 140 million (arranged by Mehran Bank’s Younas Habib) with the objective of blocking the PPP’s victory in the 1990 elections. The judgement held that the President, COAS, ISI Director General (DG) or their subordinates were not allowed to create an Election Cell in the Presidency for the purpose, and had ordered action against them based on evidence gathered during investigation. Any political cells existing within the Presidency, ISI, MI or any other intelligence agency were declared abolished. Now the SC wishes to fix responsibility for the failure to implement its verdict of six years ago. It should be recalled that late Air Marshal Asghar Khan had filed a writ in the SC in 1996 that argued all these shenanigans had rendered the 1990 elections neither fair, free nor transparent. Then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, COAS General (retd) Mirza Aslam Baig, ISI chief Lt-General (retd) Asad Durrani and banker Younas Habib were the particular focus of the SC’s orders. Nothing came of this verdict as the two top army officers filed the review petitions that have only now, six years later, been rejected, while many of the other actors in this whole drama have passed away. The prominent politicians and others who allegedly received money to oppose the PPP in the 1990 elections from the platform of the newly created Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) include: Nawaz Sharif Rs 3.5 million (to add to his mounting woes in one corruption reference after the other), Lt-General Rafaqat Rs 5.6 million (for distribution amongst journalists), Abida Hussain Rs one million, Jamaat-i-Islami Rs five million, journalist Altaf Hussain Qureshi Rs 0.5 million, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Jam Sadiq Rs five million each, Mohammad Khan Junejo Rs 0.25 million, Pir Pagara Rs two million and Humayun Marri Rs 1.5 million. None of the alleged recipients admit to it, according to the FIA DG Bashir Memon deposing before the SC.
The fact that the Asghar Khan case first took 16 years for the SC to pronounce its verdict and then another six years for the review petitions against that verdict to be taken up and finally rejected is another illustration of what afflicts our judicial system. In the ordinary course of things, cases remain pending for one reason or another interminably, hence the backlog of two million cases in the system. Extraordinary cases such as the Asghar Khan one are normally expected to receive more attention and focus, given their implications for national affairs. It is amazing therefore that the case has only meandered seemingly to the finish line in a period of 22 years. And even after the review petitions that the FIA hid behind as obstacles to investigation and prosecution have been swept away by the SC, there are a lot of questions in the public mind whether even now retired Generals and others who have held high office can be proceeded against. The SC fresh orders are very clear: proceed, but a reported caveat is that the decision to take action against the errant Generals is left to the government. In other words, the traditional reluctance to tangle with the military, which zealously guards the respect of its officers, is still in play. The real test of the SC’s otherwise worthy orders now will be: who will bell the cat?