Even when its judgments have been legally sound, a common complaint heard against the present Supreme Court is that it seems to have concentrated its ire on the democratically-elected government, while sparing the far more powerful military. As much truth as there may have been in this claim, one hopes that this perception will be corrected, now that the honourable Court has set a date to hear a petition filed by Asghar Khan, some 15 years ago against the ISI’s alleged meddling in politics. On February 29, the Supreme Court will hear the petition, whose contents have been printed, and reprinted, in the country’s newspapers over the years. The allegation against the intelligence agency is that it used a slush fund to pay various amounts of taxpayers money to politicians to cobble together an alliance by the name of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad. The petition alleges that this was done in 1990, in an attempt to deny the PPP victory in general elections that year. Among those accused are a former army chief and a former chief of the ISI.
What makes this case even more interesting is that it will raise questions about the role of the current opposition party, the PML-N, and how it has, at least in its past, benefitted from military largesse. Nawaz Sharif’s party is one of the main backers, of late, of the apex court’s trend towards judicial activism and may find itself in the dock this time, during the hearing of Asghar Khan’s petition. Especially in an election year, this petition could politically be very damaging for the PML-N.
It is because of that potential for damage that Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has asked that the Supreme Court expand the scope of the petition and investigate all of the ISI’s payments to politicians, not just those made in 1990. Although he has suggested this for all the wrong reasons, the Supreme Court would be wise to take his advice because a hearing on this matter could focus some much-needed attention on how the establishment interferes in the country’s politics, which is something that is quite clearly not part of its constitutional responsibility. And by doing that, it could perhaps act as a deterrent for future meddling.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 26th, 2012.