It took over two decades since the offence and a decade-and-a-half since the saga first began, but a conclusion was reached.
Closure was finally delivered in the form of a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan petition – a case that had long promised to be the first official acknowledgment of interference by the military and intelligence agencies in Pakistan’s politics.
And so it was.
In a damning short order, the Supreme Court found a former army chief and a former chief of the all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) guilty of rigging the 1990 general elections (against the Pakistan Peoples Party), and ordered legal action against the two former generals.
However, it was also said that the act was that of individuals not institutions – i.e. the army and ISI.
It took the Supreme Court eight months to decide the fate of the case after it had stood in limbo for 13 years. The court reopened the case in February this year.
The late former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, retired army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg and retired ISI chief Lt-General Asad Durrani “acted in violation of the Constitution by facilitating a group of politicians and political parties,” the court’s short order stated on Friday.
“The federal government shall take necessary steps under the Constitution and law against them,” it added.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry penned down the short order which also said that it has been established that a political cell was formed in the President House in 1990.
The ruling, presumably, would not have come as a surprise for the generals, who left the court without hearing short order. Beg’s counsel Akram Sheikh was also absent.
Gen Durrani addressed the court before it concluded the proceedings, saying that his act was taken in the “national interest” and cannot be separated from the institution.
However, the court made it clear to the powerful military establishment that the ISI, Military Intelligence or any other agency have no role to play in the political affairs of the country, such as the formation or destabilisation of a government, or interference in any elections.
“The ISI or MI may perform their duties as per the law to safeguard the borders of Pakistan…,” the court order stated.
The court also ordered the immediate termination of any political or election cell currently operational within the Presidency or the ISI.
The court also ordered the Federal Investigation Agency to initiate a transparent inquiry against the politicians who received ‘donations’ to spend on election campaigns in 1990. “If sufficient evidence is collected, they shall be sent up to face a trial according to law,” the court order said.
Owner of Mehran Bank Yunus Habib, alleged to have loaned money to the ISI in the 1990s, shall also be dealt with in the same manner, the order stated.
“Proceedings shall also be launched against these persons specified in the judgment for affecting the recovery of sums received by them with profit thereon by initiating civil proceedings, according to law,” the order stated.
As for the man who begun the saga 16 years ago, he seemed pleased. “I am happy with this decision,” said Asghar Khan after the hearing. His family, who were present with him, said Friday’s ruling was a success for the entire nation.
“It covers each aspect of the case and now military generals can be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution,” Khan’s counsel Salman Akram Raja commented.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2012.