AS reported in this newspaper yesterday, the much-delayed, Supreme Court-ordered FIA investigation into the stealing of the 1990 general elections may be completed by year end.
If that does happen and the FIA investigation leads to a trial, as also required by the Supreme Court judgement in the Asghar Khan case, of former army chief Aslam Beg and former ISI chief Asad Durrani, it would be a history-setting precedent that would dwarf the NLC-related decision by the army this week.
For one, the punishment handed down to two retired army generals in the NLC scam is about a relatively straightforward corruption case.
The Asghar Khan case and Mehrangate, though, were about the use of money to thwart a political party, the PPP, from returning to power and install in its place, via a fraudulent election, a coalition cobbled together by the military establishment. To put that on the historical and legal record — as the Supreme Court did in the Asghar Khan case in 2012 — and for it to lead to a trial under the law would heal many historical wounds.
If that were to happen under the present government of the original beneficiary of the scheme, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, it would send an even stronger signal that eventually the law will prevail in Pakistan.
Much is often made of the argument that to revisit past offences of the establishment would be to infuse fresh tensions into the present-day civil-military equation and put the democratic project under a cloud once again. But that is simply not true.
The Asghar Khan case did not lead to the heavens falling. More importantly, it was pursued by a Supreme Court that was fiercely critical of a civilian government, including sacking a prime minister. There was no partisan, political agenda, as has been argued in the Musharraf treason case. In addition, trials and punishment in matters concerning institutions have wider healing powers.
Consider how the NLC-related punishments have been widely hailed in Pakistan. The military has emerged as a stronger institution as a result, not weaker. Note also that when a week earlier the Supreme Court had excoriated the NAB for being unable to follow up the NLC scam with military investigators, the same reservations about civil-military tensions flaring up once again had been expressed. In the end, the military did the right thing.
It is also worth reiterating why the Asghar Khan case is so important, even 25 years after the event. What was done in 1990 arguably set the country up for a decade of political instability followed by another long spell of military rule.
Gen Aslam Beg (retd) in particular has shown no remorse for or understanding of his transgressions. And his actions were really against the people of Pakistan, for it was from them that was stolen who has the right to legitimately represent them.
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2015