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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday set a one-month deadline for the completion of inquiry against those officers of Pakistan Army who allegedly distributed millions of rupees among politicians to manipulate the results of the 1990 general elections.

A three-judge SC bench headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed, which took up a case relating to the implementation of its Oct 19, 2012, landmark judgement in the Air Marshal Asghar Khan case, was told that the Field General Court Martial (FGCM) could be initiated against army officers even after their retirement provided public money is involved.

The information was laid before the court when it inquired about the time period when the court martial could be initiated against army officers after their retirement.

In its 2012 judgement, the SC ruled that the 1990 general elections had been polluted by dishing out Rs140 million to a particular group of politicians, including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, allegedly by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

During hearing of Asghar Khan case, SC was informed that court martial can be initiated against officers even after their retirement

The court, however, asked the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) as well as the army authorities to furnish their reports highlighting updates of their respective inquiries in the matter and postponed further proceedings for a month.

During the hearing Justice Ahmed wondered why no one represented Altaf Hussain, founder of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), in the court while the list of politicians among whom the money was distributed also included his name.

The AG, however, replied that Mr Hussain was not in the country and when asked why he was not in the country he said this was a question to be determined.

Justice Ahmed regretted that the FIA had taken their hands off and did not want to proceed in the matter further.

The court referred to a report furnished by the defence ministry in which its officials have sought more time to complete their inquiries against the retired army officers involved in the scam.

The court wondered why the army authorities were conducting inquiries instead of direct initiation of court martial.

On this, the AG explained that it was the requirement of the law to commence court martial after a thorough probe.

Earlier in its report FIA had pleaded before the SC that its investigation into the financial scam had reached a dead end despite the fact that they had sincerely tried to unearth the facts and bring truth to light.

Through its 2012 judgement the SC had asked the federal government to take necessary action under the law against former army chief retired Gen Aslam Beg and former ISI director general retired Lt Gen Asad Durrani for their role in facilitating a group of politicians and political parties to ensure their success against their rival candidates in the 1990 elections by dishing out Rs140m.

But, FIA has taken the plea that the agency had left no stone unturned to collect evidence related to the alleged disbursement of money to politicians and that all the important witnesses, including retired Brig Hamid Saeed who earlier indicated that the payments were made to different politicians as per the directions of Mr Durrani, now stated that he did not remember names of those politicians.

Moreover, bank records were also scrutinised and statements of bank officers concerned were recorded and even politicians were interviewed.

Likewise, assistance and information from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, National Accountability Bureau and the defence ministry were sought and more than 190 television programmes were analysed and even the defence ministry was requested to provide information regarding details required to find necessary evidence.

But, unfortunately, the investigation could not reach a logical conclusion, the report pleaded, regretting that no army officer had given any statement of handing over money to any private person directly.

The reply further recalled that all the alleged politicians, who were associated with the inquiry proceedings, had denied the allegations of receiving money from the army or the ISI.

In 1996 late Air Marshal Asghar Khan, who formed Tehreek-i-Istiqlal, had filed the constitutional petition before the SC, requesting it to look into the allegations that the ISI financed many politicians before the 1990 elections by distributing Rs140m among them.

The family of Asghar Khan has contended it is a matter of great importance to it that the late air marshal’s 16-year-long struggle — from 1996 to 2012 — that resulted in the historic judgement of Oct 19, 2012 is not frustrated by the authorities concerned.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2019