THIS nation attained the age of 60 years on August 14. We remembered our founder and maker, Mohammad Ali Jinnah; we remembered all the intelligent men who have ruled over us; we, who have lived long enough, also remembered that at a relatively young age we managed to lose half the country (143.998 square kilometers of territory to be precise).

Most of all, we all remembered that our governments had all failed to adhere to the first edict of our founder-maker : “...the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order....”.

Eleven years ago, on June 16 1996, former air chief Air Marshal Asghar Khan wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Sajjad Ali Shah, regarding a matter of great national importance – the 1990 countrywide elections and the use of public money to ‘buy’ standing candidates. He requested that the matter be adjudged and action be taken against those found guilty. The good judge took cognizance of the request, converted it into a petition (19 of 1996), and fixed it for hearing on November 3. The respondents were Mirza Mohammad Aslam Beg, former Chief of Army Staff, retired Lt General Asad Durrani, ex-Director-General of Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, and Mr Younis Habib, ex-chief of ex-Mehran Bank Ltd, then confined in Central Jail, Karachi.

CJP Sajjad Ali Shah was followed by CJPs Ajmal Mian, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, Irshad Hasan Khan, Bashir Jehangiri, Shaikh Riaz Ahmed, Nazim Hussain Siddiqui and now Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. But today, eleven long years later, Human Rights Petition 19/96 remains shelved. Each successive Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has found it prudent to leave the petition undecided.

Filed in court is a ‘reply on behalf of respondent No.1,’ Mirza Mohammad Aslam Beg. It is far too long to be reproduced in toto though it makes most interesting reading, so we must confine ourselves to highly pertinent excerpts illustrative of the military and the ruling civilian mindset :

“It is submitted with great respect that more serious damage has been caused to the reputation and the goodwill of the Armed Forces by Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan in bringing this petition before this Honourable Court and raising an issue before the apex Court which of course would receive great publicity and would cause greater damage by scandalisation in the media. It also reflects on the poor control of the armed forces Supreme Command for not punishing delinquent people causing damage to its reputation. Raising of such an issue clearly suggests that the Armed Forces are not capable of looking after their own reputation . . . . It is submitted with great respect that the raising of this issue and investigation thereof by this august court as also further proceedings in this matter shall be detrimental to the interest of the armed forces rather than helping it.…..

“That . . . . dragging the ex-service chief to the courts on a letter may be detrimental to the prestige, honour and dignity of the institution he has once represented. . . . .

“That Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan has approached this august court with ulterior motives and his representation is based on obvious malafides . . .

“That the answering respondent never received the alleged amount from Mr Younis Habib, respondent No.3, in person or through other means and emphatically denies the allegation made by Maj General (retd) Nasirullah Babar, the then interior minister, on the floor of the National Assembly on 20 April 1994. . . . . .

“That in early September [1990], Mr Younis Habib then serving in the Habib Bank Ltd as Zonal Chief had called on the answering respondent [Beg] and informed him that he was under instructions from the President’s [Ghulam Ishaq] Election Cell to make available a sum of Rs.140 million for supporting the elections of 1990. He stated that he will be available to collect this amount through his own efforts from his community as donations and that he was under the instructions of the Election Cell to place this amount at the disposal of the Director-General, Inter Services Intelligence who would handle this amount as per instructions of the President’s Election Cell.

“That in 1990 the National Assembly was dissolved and the government of Mrs Benazir Bhutto was dismissed. A caretaker government was formed to hold elections within 90 days. The then President, Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan, had formed an Election Cell directly under him managed by Mr Roedad Khan/Mr Ijlal Haider Zaidi.

“That later on the answering respondent was informed by the Director-General, Inter Services Intelligence, that various accounts were opened and the amount of Rs.140 million was deposited in those accounts directly by Mr Younis Habib. Director-General, Inter Services Intelligence made arrangements to distribute these amounts amongst the politicians belonging to various political parties and persons as instructed by the Election Cell. . . . .

“That in 1975 Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then prime minister, created a Political Cell within the ISI organisation. As a result, the ISI was made responsible to the chief executive, i.e. the prime minister/president for all matters of national and political intelligence . . . .

“It is in the knowledge of the answering respondent that it was the practice with the ISI to support the candidates during the elections under the directions of the Chief Executive of the government. The receipt of this amount by ISI from Younis Habib in 1990 was also under the directions of the Chief Executive. DG ISI also informed the answering respondent that funds so received were properly handled and the accounts were maintained, and that President Ghulam Ishaq Khan was briefed by him on this matter. . . .

“That during this period, in his meeting with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the answering respondent had informed him about the donations made by Younis Habib and its utilisation by DG ISI under the instructions of the President’s Political Cell.. .

“That the petitioner has made the following allegations : (a) actions of General Mirza Aslam Beg and Lt Gen Muhammad Asad Durrani amounted to gross misconduct; (b) both have brought the armed forces of Pakistan into disrepute; (c) both have been guilty of undermining the discipline of the armed forces.

“That the above allegations are false, based on malafides and unfounded . . . .

“That DG ISI acted within the limits of the ‘lawful command’ received from the President’s Election Cell. Definition of ‘lawful command’ as interpreted by Pakistan Army Act Section 33 Note b(3) is : ‘A superior can give a command for the purpose of maintaining good order or suppressing a disturbance or for the execution of a military duty or regulation’, and Pakistan Army Act Section 33 Note b(11) : ‘A civilian cannot give a ‘lawful command’ under this sub-section to a soldier employed under him; but it may well be the soldier’s duty as such to do the act indicated.’.. . . .

“That actions of answering respondent and General Asad Durrani did not amount to gross misconduct. Orders were carried out under a lawful command.”

Questions which arise from a perusal of the above : Did Bhutto’s executive order of 1975 creating a political cell in the ISI have any legal cover, and is it still operative? Did President Ghulam Ishaq Khan act lawfully and correctly? Will Roedad Khan and Ijlal Zaidi, the managers of his Election Cell as named by Beg, in the larger national interest kindly elucidate, testify and enlighten us?

A letter from an MQM minion, Kunwar Khalid Yunus, was printed in this newspaper on August 15 in which he admitted “that Gen Beg’s one sidekick also reached Mr Altaf Hussain’s residence of Azizabad with one suitcase full of currency notes. Mr Hussain refused to accept it. After a few months, when Mr Hussain met Mr Beg [at] a function in Lahore, the former cynically asked if his expensive suitcase reached him safely. The latter sheepishly nodded.” Will Mr Yunus file an affidavit in court?

Lastly, may I again appeal to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to take up this pending matter and let us have a decision before the next round of ‘fair and free’ elections. If press reports of August 17 are to be believed, President General Pervez Musharraf has clearly stated that he would be re-elected “at any cost” – at the cost of whose life and whose money?

E-mail: arfc@cyber.net.pk

Updated Aug 19, 2007 12:00am

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