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Iftikhar Chaudhry
Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. — FilePhoto by Online

ISLAMABAD: The notorious political cell of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was the focal point of hearings in the Asghar Khan petition on Thursday and the Supreme Court ordered the government to procure and hand over the notification under which the cell had been set up in 1975.

A bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain asked Attorney General Irfan Qadir to present the notification which, according to the petitioner, was issued by then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to set up a special political cell in the ISI.

The court said it would be willing to examine the notification in camera if needed.

The last time the cell was mentioned in the Supreme Court on June 16, 1997, when the then attorney general acknowledged its existence in front of chief justice Saiduzzaman Siddiqui.

Asghar Khan also said in his Jan 30, 1999, letter to Justice Siddiqui that ISI’s charter made it clear that it could be used by the chief executive of the country to finance political parties.

In his testimony on Wednesday, former ISI director general Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani said the cell was still operational.

Advocate Salman Akram Raja, the petitioner’s counsel, reminded the court that Mr Durrani was willing to share “for your eyes only” certain record he had maintained meticulously.

The chief justice said if a person like the late Mr Bhutto had set up the cell then there must have been some wisdom behind it.

He also said that while Asghar Khan’s credibility could not be doubted, the court could not overlook the sacrifices of the armed forces. “We have a porous border and the intelligence agencies are doing an excellent job of protecting us.”

Law and Justice Secretary Yasmeen Abbasey told the court that the commissions of inquiry on the Mehran Bank and Habib Bank scandals had never submitted their final reports.

She was able to present an interim report by Justice (retd) Mohammad Ilyas on April 22, 1997, which only listed the members of the commission and 13 witnesses whose evidence had been recorded.

Justice Arif observed that the terms of reference of the Mehran Bank commission were irrelevant because the real question would be whether the intelligence agencies were used to engineer the 1990 elections. “We will get answers to many questions if we get the HBL report. Otherwise, we will be groping in the dark,” he said.

The law ministry placed on record a report saying that since it did not have any original report prepared by the MBL inquiry commission, it could not verify the copy supplied by the court.

The attorney general sought a week to explore ways to authenticate the report placed before the court by a journalist.

The court ordered the HBL president to appear on June 4 along with ledgers related to the withdrawal of funds that were allegedly distributed among politicians. He will also have to testify if former HBL chairman Younus Habib had given orders for this to be done.

The court noted the absence of the Defence Ministry’s Legal Affairs Director and asked him to appear on the next date of hearing to explain whether the ISI and the Military Intelligence had involved the ministry as an institution in distribution of funds among politicians.