Coming home to roost

Published: March 17, 2012

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore [email protected]

“…nobody who felt shocked, depressed or angry after reading the edited White House transcripts should ever be allowed to hear the actual tapes, except under heavy sedation or locked in the trunk of a car. Only a terminal cynic, they say, can listen for any length of time to the real stuff without feeling a compulsion to do something like drive down to the White House and throw a bag of live rats over the fence.” These were reportedly the words of Hunter S Thompson on the occasion of the discovery of the Watergate tapes. I can pretend that we are this enraged by the Mehran Bank Scandal, but I will have to pretend real hard, but then all of us should be. Our subdued anger can be attributed to the fact that most of us knew this for some time, still the “real stuff” is fairly jolting and spares us nothing, and it is in short the stuff to get livid about.

Further, I can still maintain that while it is a good thing that the matter has been taken up but why did it take this long, and in any event it is nothing special, the Courts are supposed to hear matters pending for more than fifteen years, but again I know I will be protesting too much. It is indeed extraordinary and the cynicism can be momentarily put at rest, to extend the Supreme Court a genuine congratulation, a rarity in recent times. While we are at it, also dip our flag and salute the old yet indefatigable lion, Asghar Khan.

Once one gets past the minor irritation of the almost universal habit of mercilessly plugging the ‘gate’ suffix after every scandal, the realisation that the Asghar Khan hearing is truly groundbreaking is unavoidable. A former army chief and the DG-ISI coming to Court and submitting sworn affidavits of confession of bribing and rigging the election process provides some closure and an almost guilty pleasure, even if we knew all along that something like this happened and perhaps happens. The most grotesque feature of the episode is the tactlessness of our ‘commandos’ and politicians, there are no subtle promises or sophisticated indirect campaign donations. It is the crudest, most stereotypical form of petty corruption, direct cash payments.

The episode should also put an end to a vague, rather witless notion that though the ‘Generals’ might undertake some enterprises which are not strictly legal, but their patriotism should not be doubted, heart in the right place and similar clap trap. They evidently behave like the most crooked of mafia bosses, at least those in question did.

The case of the Generals is simple, there is a confession on record and a remorseless admission of deliberately breaching their constitutional oath and hence, they should stand the necessary trial and be sentenced. There is irony lurking somewhere in their feeble defence that they were merely carrying orders handed down by the now deceased Ghulam Ishaq Khan, I am not sure if they are aware that this is identical to the plea taken by the Nazi officials in the Nuremberg trials. In any event, if General (Retd) Aslam Beg is fit enough to come on television and spin the most fantastic of conspiracy theories, I am sure he will manage to survive a trial and hopefully a prison term.

It is easy to get detracted by the pleasure derived from possibly viewing the spectacle of the Generals going to prison and miss the bigger picture. The Supreme Court has displayed a fondness for looking at the ‘holistic’ picture and one hopes it continues in the same vein. Not only should the guilty Generals be incarcerated, but also the question asked is there a political cell of the ISI now? If yes, under what authority is it constituted or does the ISI still undertake any activity which is political? If not, when was it disbanded, and if a record has been maintained, which it would have been, that should be declassified. A gentle notice to the new DG-ISI to explain the agency’s position, of course, along with a warm and fuzzy welcome, might be in order.

The most startling thing on the political front is that the PML-N has suddenly lost all its zeal for the formation of high powered fact finding commissions. Perhaps Mian Nawaz Sharif does not consider this matter to be of equal significance to the ramblings of Mansoor Ijaz. The response of many PML-N representatives is evasive denial, and betrays a lack of conviction. The list submitted in court is an assorted ‘who is who’ of our politics, including some surprises. No politician has yet confessed and hence, it is slightly premature and speculative, however, it is good speculation. Separate proceedings can be initiated against the individual politicians on the basis of prima facie evidence and the allegations proved. However, one would be pleasantly surprised if someone volunteers to defend themselves in the Supreme Court if they feel they have been wrongly accused or even more pleasantly and more surprisingly confess. Here again, the guilty should be convicted for violations of Representation of Peoples Act and disbarred from politics alongside with addressing the larger issue of campaign finance. The regulations governing campaign finance are obscure, outdated and most significantly not enforced. This is an opportunity for the Court to set guidelines and perhaps urge parliament to legislate more realistic and more implementable guidelines.

Optimism is very rarely justified in Pakistan, however, equally rare are moments which mandate such almost unguarded hopefulness. My Lords, do not let this moment pass, it will be a long while before a Pakistani Court has a similar opportunity to make history, if this one is squandered. It might not solve load shedding and corruption, but seeing the mirthless, arrogant face of Gen Beg in the back of a prison wagon, will certainly make it easier to endure all of this, knowing that there is, perhaps, justice at the end of the road.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2012.

Reader Comments (22)

  • abdul basit
    Mar 17, 2012 - 10:21PM

    Who set up the political wing of ISI in the first place? It wasn’t any general or military man,it was a democratically elected leader of pakistan.

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  • Hafeez
    Mar 17, 2012 - 10:29PM

    Great piece Saroop! I totally agree with you that this is time to make history. This is the time to set Pakistan on the right course.

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  • Parvez
    Mar 17, 2012 - 10:37PM

    As usual extremely interesting and your closing paragraph says a lot.
    Both the givers and the receivers must be held accountable. This is an important case and if it lands up like the Steel Mill or the Rental Power Project cases with nothing conclusive, then it will not just be an opportunity lost but much more.

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  • Basit Khan
    Mar 17, 2012 - 10:59PM

    Articulate, and unflinching as ever. Keep them coming Saroop Ijaz !

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  • Basit Khan
    Mar 17, 2012 - 11:20PM

    @abdul basit, perhaps this might help answer your question.

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/351366/the-political-role-of-the-isi/

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  • PakiKaka
    Mar 17, 2012 - 11:21PM

    @abdul basit:
    Wrong Sir, that’s what they would have you believe. Get your facts correct. It was General Ayub Khan, yet another General

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  • elementary
    Mar 18, 2012 - 12:59AM

    Bravo! I could’nt agree more. Army Generals are as much a part of this ocean of corruption and misgovernance as any of our politicians.They should also be tried.
    “All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
    There is no doubt that Army wields power in our country and at times absolute power , so it does’nt surprise me if they have had their fair share of corruption.

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Mar 18, 2012 - 1:18AM

    Jail, yes, but let us not forget the crime of income tax evasion. After all, this was income to the recipients which they did not declare nor pay any tax. This, in case we have forgotten, is a crime.

    It would be the first time in 64 years that ANYONE has gone to jail for that!

    It is THAT which would also make history. So I share your fervernt wish that their Lordships who sat on this for what — some 16 years? — will not let this opportunity pass and will “Take it to the Limit” (the title of that wonderful song by the Eagles).

    On your other question, Saroop, a little birdie at lunch today told me of something similar having happened during Mush’s time.

    So, to answer your question I think this is still going on and it would be naive of us (and you are certainly not naive) to think for a moment that this has stopped.

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  • Babloo
    Mar 18, 2012 - 1:19AM

    If the ex-army / isi men are held accountable for the loot, nepotism and subversion of democratically elected government ( euphemism for treason ) , it will deliver shock treatment to a malady that desperately needs it. If this opportunity is lot, the security state will be emboldened and will know no fear of the law.

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  • Nahnood Saeed
    Mar 18, 2012 - 2:11AM

    Bhutto created the political wing in ISI by an Executive Order and his daughter used IB for similar purposes. In more than four years of the present Government, there has been no attempt to disband such wings/units by Executive order. Hurrah for Democratic nincumpoops!!!!

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  • Mirza
    Mar 18, 2012 - 2:17AM

    You have exceeded your own standards. Thanks for the great Op Ed. Keep it up!

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  • Nadir
    Mar 18, 2012 - 2:21AM

    Aslam Beg proposed to sell nuclear secrets to Iran for profit. Then he proposed selling drugs to raise money. The guy is the living manifestation of what politicans are accused of being on a daily basis, except as an ex-COAS he thinks he is better than the rest of us.

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  • john
    Mar 18, 2012 - 4:28AM

    @abdul basit:

    One need to be strictly legal. Exexutive decision/authority of an elected PM is unlimited and constitutional. Those who mis-used it against theit oath, may face article of treason.

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  • American Desi
    Mar 18, 2012 - 5:48AM

    I wish the court exposes all the recipients and makes an example out of the Politicians and Generals involved.

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  • Arifq
    Mar 18, 2012 - 6:32AM

    Saroop, thou has produced another masterpiece, many thanks. We may have signed affidavits but there is no money trail. This will be a difficult task to prove, it may serve as good trial by media but in the end it may not materialize. Having said that, this is still good enough reason to expose or question those who were responsible for this scandalous affair, the giver and receiver both are equally responsible.

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  • WB
    Mar 18, 2012 - 6:45AM

    Well, according to our esteemed PM and Mr Malik, no political cell under the ISI exists and the “government has full control over the ISI”; this is the statement of Mr Malik, which he has repeated many times. So who should we believe, this author or Mr Malik our Interior Minister? Like the vast majority of Pakistanis I do believe ISI should have played a much more aggressive role in these last 4 years and should have kicked these corrupt and incompetent thieves out of this country.

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  • Parvez Amin
    Mar 18, 2012 - 7:00AM

    The rule of law is established by applying the law consistently and repeatedly. If we want a lawful and orderly society, the law must be applied to all equally and quickly. Our society has arrived at a stage where we must accelerate the application of our laws. Thank you Saroop Sahib for providing the opportunity to say this publicly.

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  • Feroz
    Mar 18, 2012 - 9:28AM

    Excellent Analysis ! First the Generals created fear among the people that Devilish neighbour would swallow them. Subsequently they went about their business of grabbing Power, derailing Democracy was the smallest of their achievements. The million dollar question is will the Court find the courage to convict the fraudsters who have destroyed Pakistan in the specious name of “national interests”.

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  • 3footninja
    Mar 18, 2012 - 12:01PM

    oh look… saroop is back! hehe…

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  • sars
    Mar 18, 2012 - 12:14PM

    Great article and much better than the last one!!!

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  • siddh
    Mar 18, 2012 - 2:47PM

    Pakistan’s problem is military interference and must be curtailed once n for all

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  • SA
    Mar 19, 2012 - 3:47PM

    The buck stops at the politicians.They have been with each military set up and nothing will change until they actually begin to act like politicians. This see-saw is slowing down, hopefully those who like to be called leaders are moving in that direction.

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