The government may not have been willing to produce evidence of the existence of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)’s notorious political cell, but the apex court still declared on Monday that the cell, if it did, or does, exist, was illegal.
The Supreme Court (SC) adjudged the political cell ‘void ab initio’ – that is, null and void from the start. If nothing else, the move is heavily symbolic – particularly with general elections around the corner. The decision was taken in a petition dealing with the intelligence agencies’ direct manipulation of the 1990 general elections – a petition commonly referred to as the Asghar Khan petition.
Despite repeated orders by the court during past hearings in the case, the attorney general failed to produce the notification under which the political wing of the ISI was allegedly established in May 1975. During Monday’s proceedings, the court had once again asked the attorney general for the notification. On another failure to produce it, a three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, took its own action.
Support for democracy
The proceedings echoed with pro-democracy comments.
The court order also mentioned the disqualification of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the SC judgment of 31 July, 2009, followed by subsequent judgments, which made it abundantly clear that the affairs of the country would only be governed strictly under the Constitution, with no interference of any nature from institutions other than those given powers under the Constitution.
“We are of the opinion that the attorney-general seeking instruction from relevant quarters including prime minister and defence authorities (armed forces) shall bring it to their notice, the dictum laid down by this court,” the court order said.
The court also added that a “Bangladesh-like model” could not be imported in Pakistan. The “Bangladesh model” is a common reference to long-standing rumours that an extended interim government, consisting of technocrats, would soon be ‘put in place’ to govern the country and fix all the problems.
Chief Justice Chaudhry also told Salman Akram Raja, the counsel for petitioner Asghar Khan, who was not present in court for the first time in the 16-year history of the case, that he was hopeful that no unwanted intervention would take place in the future.
Interestingly, the chief justice also expressed his pleasure over the election of a new prime minister and the continuity of the democratic system. Justice Jawwad S Khawaja also commented, saying that the institution, not the individual, mattered.
Meanwhile, Lt Gen (retd) Assad Durrani handed over a summary put before the relevant authorities for the creating of a political cell in the ISI. Qadir told the court that nothing substantive was found in the document.
But the court asked him to place it on record or give it to the court in a sealed envelope.
Defence Secretary Nargis Sethi told the court that she had tried her best to find the notification issued by her ministry, but failed to trace it.
She also assured the court that she would direct officials from both sides (defence and cabinet ministries) to find the required notification, adding that since it had been 38 years since the notification was issued, it was not easy to trace the record.
The bench directed Nargis Sethi to inform the court whether the defence ministry would represent the ISI and Military Intelligence in this case or if a counsel would be appointed for the purpose, so that no one could say that they were condemned unheard. Sethi said she would seek instructions from the government in this regard. The case was adjourned till July 30.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2012.
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