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We never learn from history – 10

September 02, 2007

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THE Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has published a report entitled ‘A City under Siege — Carnage in Karachi: 12/05/07.’ It consists of 123 pages which convincingly convey what was done and not done that day by the government of Sindh and the federal government, both of which stand condemned of aiding and abetting the murder of some 50 citizens of Pakistan.

The matter, unprecedented in this country’s murky political record, is in the Sindh High Court and remains to be adjudged and the culprits duly punished under the law of the land.

On August 16, 2007, a medical student of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre was bludgeoned to death on the premises of the hospital by his fellow students (the country’s future doctors) over an altercation which emanated over the payment of Rs16. On August 25, yet another clash took place, again on the JPMC premises, between rival student groups, doctors in the making, which left one more dead man.

We should not be ashamed to admit that we in Pakistan are existing in a neo-Neanderthal age.

Now let us revert to an old but currently vital subject. In June 1996, after the Mehran Bank/ISI scam had been revealed in the National Assembly, retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan wrote a letter to Chief Justice of Pakistan Sajjad Ali Shah asking him to initiate legal proceedings against the former chief of army staff General Mirza Aslam Beg and the former head of the ISI, Lt General Asad Durrani.

The Chief Justice converted the letter into a petition (Human Rights Case 19/1996). This has been the subject of nine columns (this being the 10th in the series) starting from August 2002.

In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court during the hearing of the petition, General Aslam Beg, under oath, informed the court that in 1975 Great Democrat Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had issued an executive order that a ‘Political Cell’ be created within the Inter Services Intelligence organisation to deal with political and electoral matters.

What we now need to know is — does this political cell still exist? (Incidentally, one other executive order issued by Bhutto was the formation of the ‘Federal Security Force’ to bully and coerce his opponents. Chosen to head it was Masood Mahmud, a reputed sadist, who with a sneer was heard to say: “Most Pakistanis have wives and daughters, and if not, certainly mothers — ho, ho, ho.”)

All things being equal, we must assume that the ISI political cell does exist and we must also assume that there is another round of general elections coming up. The external powers are adamant that they should be ‘free and fair’, untainted by the usual rigging. President General Pervez Musharraf has also made noises to that effect.

Towards this goal, one way of cutting down on the fixing and rigging would be to exclude the Inter Services Intelligence agency from the process. The ISI has actively been involved in all this country’s elections, starting with President General Ayub Khan’s 1964 elections which were successfully rigged in his favour.

The ISI is openly and actively involved with the coming election as has been evidenced by the fact that the President General dispatched to London last month the ISI chief, serving Lt General Ashfaq Kiyani, to ‘deal’ with the pre-election and election process and to make suitable arrangements with the exiled leaders of the two main opposition parties — the PML-N and the PPP.

Probably the ISI’s moment of electioneering glory came in 1990 when it not only fixed elections but created a political grouping, the IJI, in order to exclude Benazir Bhutto and bring in Nawaz Sharif. Much money, at least Rs140 million that we know of, was taken from public funds and used to purchase suitable politicians to serve its purpose.

The Great Democrat’s daughter, Benazir, in her first term of office correctly appointed the late upright officer, Air Chief Marshal Zulfikar Ali Khan, to head a commission to review the working of the security and intelligence agencies of the country, amongst them the ISI. One of his findings (March 27, 1989) is revealing and pertinent:

“Another undesirable aspect of the working of certain intelligence agencies was their conduct in the recent general elections and to the subsequent transfer of power to elected representatives of the people. Arrogating to themselves the exclusive right to patriotism, they tried to manipulate the results in favour or against certain political parties by threats and coercion, persuasion and offers of bribes. Subsequently, efforts were made to destabilise the government duly established by law and these agencies tried to acts as virtual king-makers.

“In normal times, this should have entailed severe punishment for the individuals concerned, but I realise that under martial law such activities are considered valid. The least that should be done to redress the situation is to transfer the key personnel of the agencies concerned without delay, as the posting out of lesser functionaries does not seem to have produced the desired results…”

In view of the ISI’s past record, and now particularly in view of the admitted and open involvement of ISI chief Lt General Ashfaq Kiyani in the electoral process, if there is to be any semblance or any attempt to hold ‘free and fair’ elections, the ISI must be reined in and the sole body capable of doing so at the moment is the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Will Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry take heed of the recent letter sent to him by Asghar Khan requesting that he take up his petition and finally, 11 years down the road, decide it?