Truth shall prevail

Published: October 22, 2012
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The writer is Director, Policy & Programmes Jinnah Institute, Islamabad. The views expressed are his own

The writer is Director, Policy & Programmes Jinnah Institute, Islamabad. The views expressed are his own

Twenty-two years after a ‘fixed’ general election, the Supreme Court has legally validated the otherwise well-known story. Pakistan’s ambitious generals were adept at engineering electoral outcomes by raising funds and financing pliant or favoured politicians. At the centre of this macabre game in the 1990s was Benazir Bhutto, a legitimate and popular politician, whose appeal had not diminished despite the charges of corruption and incompetence. The army and ISI chiefs were personally involved in this exercise. In short, they violated their oaths under the Constitution, even if they were given illegal orders by the then president.

The Court’s short order is clear in terms of setting out the facts correctly. This by itself is an unprecedented development. The judiciary always played second fiddle to the executive, especially the army; and this is the reason why judges did not take up the case for almost 16 years. Today, Benazir Bhutto is dead but she would have stood tall and vindicated. During the 1990s, media campaigns against her kept on negating the stories of manipulation by the army, but today, those who laundered the GHQ’s agenda must reflect on why they aided such anti-democratic shenanigans, harming the country and its progress.

The Supreme Court has asked the federal government to proceed against the former army and ISI chiefs. Similarly, it has asked the government to inquire against the politicians through the Federal Investigation Agency. This is not consistent with the earlier orders of the Court whereby it proactively set up commissions, such as the one formed to probe charges against former ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, and more recently, in the case of corruption allegations against Arsalan Iftikhar.

In the main, the order finds the creation of an election cell in the presidency against the Constitution. However, it is also well-known that then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan was backed by the army and could not have reached the office without the GHQ’s support in the aftermath of General Ziaul Haq’s death in an air crash. Khan continued to play anti-democratic politics at the behest of the army until he lost his job through another extra-constitutional ‘army action’ led by General (retd) Abdul Waheed Kakar in 1993 when both Nawaz Sharif and Khan were asked to go home. It has been clear to even a naïve observer as to who has been calling the shots in Pakistan. Thus, the legalese of the political cell in the presidency is but a cover for the direct puppeteering of politics by the military in the 1990s.

The ISI’s involvement in national politics since the 1970s is contrary to its mandate of protecting Pakistan against external threats. Instead, we now have a judicially confirmed ‘version’ that ISI chiefs were setting up the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad and doling out funds raised in a dubious manner.

In its order, the Court has cautiously exonerated the armed forces as an institution. Paragraph five of the order states: “… an Election Cell was established in the Presidency to influence the elections and was aided by … the Chief of Army Staff and … Director General ISI and they participated in the unlawful activities of the Election Cell in violation of the responsibilities of the Army and ISI as institutions which is  an act of individuals but not of institutions represented by them respectively …” This is a little baffling as the army chief, given the chain of command and internal structure, represents the very ‘institution’ the Court is trying to protect.

The saving grace of the order is a clear direction contained in paragraph six on the ISI and the Military Intelligence that “such organisations have no role to play in the political activities/politics, for formulation or destabilisation of political Governments nor can they facilitate or show favour to a political party or group of political parties or politicians individually …”. This comes at an opportune time when the country is heading towards a general election.

Pakistan’s power centres are multiplying and shifting. But it would not be sufficient to shift the power from one ‘unelected’ institution i.e., the army, to another ‘unelected’ and insular institution, i.e., the Supreme Court. The latter is not even prepared to submit its accounts before a parliamentary committee under the apparent notion that it might affect its ‘independence’. The riddle, therefore, remains: how will Pakistan ever achieve civilian ascendancy and parliamentary control on powerful, ‘unelected’ state institutions?

Finally, the comments on the president’s powers may lead to further complications. The interpretation of the president’s office in paragraphs three and four is something that the incumbent president’s opponents are concerned about and this interpretation may be used to start another round of president-hunting in the media, as well as in the courts. Hopefully, the detailed order will take care of the apparent ambiguity.

The PPP has gained tremendously for now. But the vindication of its stance would be diluted if it does not take timely and effective action. In terms of rhetoric, the statement of Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira is instructive. He stated that the government will institute cases of high treason against retired generals. Kaira also defended the ‘political’ role of President Asif Ali Zardari. However, it will need to tread a cautious path with both the PML-N and the retired generals. Perhaps, this verdict will lead to another round of ‘bargains’ that President Zardari uses as an instrument of the Pakistani brand of democratic politics. After the resolution of the NRO case, the dual office controversy is a potential threat to his office and a potential second term. But he has also demonstrated his survival skills. His opponents may well be warned to prepare for another retreat.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Indian Wisdom
    Oct 22, 2012 - 11:14PM

    Simply beautiful!!!
    “… an Election Cell was established in the Presidency to influence the elections and was aided by … the Chief of Army Staff and … Director General ISI and they participated in the unlawful activities of the Election Cell in violation of the responsibilities of the Army and ISI as institutions which is an act of individuals but not of institutions represented by them respectively …”

    Lets hope that it has stopped now and this will never get repeated in future……….

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  • Nadir
    Oct 22, 2012 - 11:23PM

    We must appreciate the sacrifices of the Army Cheif and ISI. If the politicans were not corrupt, they would be no need to offer them money. Their corruption entrapped the generals.

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  • Hammad
    Oct 22, 2012 - 11:40PM

    Blaming the office of the president only is misleading. It wasn’t a personal effort by some people, it was a matter of policy of the establishment. The court order fails to shed light on this.

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  • sabi
    Oct 23, 2012 - 12:46AM

    The best way for Army to endorse Apex court verdict is to accept the follies it has commited in past four and a half years
    ISI should be given under civilion control as a first step second Army should role back strategic depth policy.And most importantly announce an open war against terrorism in every part of pakistan.If this happens then we can assume army has really endorsed sc verdict in its letter and its spirit.

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  • Mirza
    Oct 23, 2012 - 3:07AM

    A very good analysis indeed. Thanks for that. Now the rightwing politicians and generals are exposed beyond a doubt, they should be brought in front of the media and apologize to the nation for hurting democracy and committing high treason. When Dr. A. Q. Khan can be brought on the media why not these generals and rightwing politicians who victimized the voters and country?

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  • Sudhar Jao
    Oct 23, 2012 - 4:46AM

    Truth alone prevails – Satyameva Jayate?Recommend

  • Caramelized_Onion
    Oct 23, 2012 - 9:31AM

    Raza, I guess you’ll be disappointed in the PML-N after his verdict, but I fail to understand why you were expecting anything else from a party like it anyway. And no, you cannot isolate NS from PML-N as his name is in the title of the party! Secondly, I’m similarly amazed at your optimistic opinion about the PPP.

    The PPP is a dead horse breathing its last, our old generation should stop living in the 80s and 90s as Pakistani politics have changed and old horses with their old tricks will no longer work here. There is only one party that gained from the verdict and that is Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, due to its principled stand on the issue. Notwithstanding the fact that Asghar Khan is now part of PTI as well.

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  • Baqir
    Oct 23, 2012 - 12:19PM

    Very well said!..
    Now the ball is in PPP,s court to take strict actions against the said anti constitution generals and the anti democracy politicians to correct the future line of free and fair elections for a sound democracy. Apart from that it is the responsibility of every democratic party to join hands for the supremacy of parliament.

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  • Ahmad Hassan Awan
    Oct 23, 2012 - 2:18PM

    Asghar Khan Case remained almost 16 years in Supreme Court. Why the judiciary did not bother to investigate the matter by FIA,NAB or Commission and then pass its verdict. Now one verdict is making scores of different persons inquiry,cases and then tedious judicial discourse. The judiciary has opened the pandora box and our nation will remain in flux for coming decades. Hats down for Judiciary.
    If Judiciary is sure about Generals that they have done something which is above the law then the people who benefited from Generals/ISI are equally culpable. The decision is providing time to
    culprits. Nawaz and Shehbaz are over 60 and if the cases go as the lacuna in judgement is engineered on purpose then these sharifs can continue with impunity till their late 70’s. Keep in mind it took 16 years to Supreme Court to pass toothless verdict.
    Nothing is going to change here. Every body is supporting Corruption. Corruption will prevail if Imran Khan fails.

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