An austere message was conveyed to once powerful generals on Wednesday by the Supreme Court: You have one last chance to engage proper defence counsels to plead your case.
A three-member bench of the Supreme Court hearing Asghar Khan’s petition alleging that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) rigged the 1990 general elections by distributing millions of rupees among several politicians, was ominous in its words: “Bear in mind that you were sitting generals at that time and were holding esteemed designations. Your confessions can have serious repercussions. Almost all the matters are now settled and we will soon decide the case.”
The bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, said it could make the report and in-camera briefings on the matter public, adding that it seemed the intelligence agencies were not working within their mandate.
The court also asked the attorney-general (AG) to assist the court in the case, particularly regarding the role of intelligence agencies in political affairs of the country.
Former ISI chief General Assad Durrani said that he was individually responsible for his crime and ISI was not involved in this episode. In response, the chief justice said: “We cannot run behind individuals, we are not a regional court. Therefore, it is better for you to engage a lawyer.
“Despite the fact that you have conceded your role in the disbursement of national money during the 1990 election and there remains no ambiguity in this regard, in terms of constitutional provision, we are asking you (to engage lawyers)… so you do not complain that court did not give you chance…”
Younis Habib – a central protagonist of the scandal and the former chief of the Mehran Bank – submitted another affidavit in response to then army chief General (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg and Assad Durrani’s affidavits. The court reprimanded him for addressing the chief justice in his letter personally.
“Tomorrow you will say on TV shows that you often exchanged letters with the chief justice,” Justice Khilji Arif remarked.
Upon the court’s query, the AG told the Supreme Court that there was no problem in declassifying the in-camera statements of Durrani and former interior minister Major Gen (retd) Naseerullah Khan Babar. Durrani and Babar had recorded their statements during the hearing of Asghar Khan’s petition in 1999.
The apex court said that it could pass a written order to make the report public.
“There is no issue in declassifying the statements as many things are already public,” AG Maulvi Anwarul Haq told the bench.
However, the court expressed discontentment with the AG for failing to produce the former inquiry commission reports of Mehran Bank and Habib Bank. The AG replied that they could not be retrieved since the relevant officials of the Ministry of Interior were currently on a foreign trip and the law ministry did not posses the reports. Furious at the reply, the bench sarcastically remarked if the interior secretary carried all the reports in his pockets while travelling.
The AG sought more time from the court to present the documents in court.
During the hearing, Durrani told the court that there were “elements” outside the ISI who were appointed for the task of distributing this money. To this, the chief justice said: “You [Durrani] were holding office at the time the money was being distributed, how can you deny ISI’s involvement?”
Mehran Bank former chief Habib submitted an application in the Supreme Court for the recovery of the money allegedly distributed by the ISI to various politicians in 1990. In the application, Habib requested that a judicial commission be established for the recovery of the money.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2012.