Ideally, the Ashgar Khan petition currently being heard by the Supreme Court will serve two purposes: to punish those who tried to illegally influence the 1990 elections and to deter the military establishment from interfering in future elections. The decision by former ISI chief Asad Durrani to reveal the names of those officers, who handed out money to politicians, should help achieve both aims. It is crucial to know not just which politicians were bribed but who in the establishment had bribed them. In 1990, the establishment had a one-point agenda to ensure that the PPP was not returned to power and it used all means at its disposal to secure that outcome. Now it is up to the Supreme Court to investigate and punish all those responsible for this scheme, even if it includes senior officials of the establishment of the time.
Simply making the details of this election rigging public is not enough. Neither is heaping all the blame on the politicians who accepted the money from intelligence agencies. There should be some kind of accountability of those in the military who indulged in these shenanigans so that a clear message is sent to all and sundry that they cannot simply buy an election. This is important, not least because of the sorry record of the military and its intelligence agencies in manipulating the outcome of elections in this country.
At the same time, it is important to know which politicians were the beneficiaries of military largesse. The Islami Jamhoori Ittehad was formed by the establishment with the express purpose of dislodging the PPP and those of its leaders who took military money need to be named and shamed. The 1990 elections were expected to be too close to call, yet this right-wing group somehow managed to get more than twice as many seats as the PPP and its allies. The role played by the establishment in this surprising landslide needs to be investigated. The Supreme Court should also broaden the terms of the Asghar Khan petition and look more deeply into the military’s role, not just in the 1990 elections, but in subsequent elections as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2012.