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ISLAMABAD, Oct 3: The Ministry of Defence denied before the Supreme Court on Wednesday the existence of much-dreaded political cell in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

At the outset of the proceedings, a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain said the court had received a statement from the defence ministry which stated that at present no political cell was working in any subordinate department of the ministry.

The court is hearing the 1996 petition of Tehrik-i-Istiqlal chief Air Martial (retd) Asghar Khan who accused the ISI of financing politicians in the 1990 elections by dishing out Rs140 million to create the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and block Benazir Bhutto’s PPP from winning. The petition was based on an affidavit of Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, former director general of the ISI.

At the last hearing on July 30, Attorney General Irfan Qadir informed the court that the government had been unable to find the 1975 notification issued by then chief executive Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to set up a special political cell in the ISI.

On Wednesday, the court asked the defence ministry’s Director Legal Commander Shahbaz that if the cell was not functioning now then when it did function.

He said the defence ministry had confirmed with the intelligence agency before submitting its response.

Bout the court noted that the ministry was not taking the matter seriously and asked Commander Shahbaz to submit the statement after it was duly signed by the defence secretary.

The court reminded him that a statement submitted in 1997, a year after the filing of the petition, had accepted that the cell existed.

At the last hearing, Advocate Akram Sheikh, representing former army chief Gen (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg, recalled that then cabinet secretary Hassan Raza Pasha had placed on record before a Supreme Court bench certain documents which he had taken back during the proceedings in 1997. The documents might contain the notification about the setting up of the cell, he added.

Gen Durrani had also submitted to the court certain documents shedding light on the working of the ISI political cell. The documents included facts about the existence of the cell contained in a concise statement he had earlier submitted to the court.

On Wednesday, the chief justice praised the judicial system for withstanding the pressures of previous martial laws. Had the judicial system collapsed during the martial laws, the courts would have been filled with generals, instead of judges, he observed.

The chief justice also lauded the role of the present parliament which refused to indemnify the Nov 3, 2007, actions of imposing emergency and sending judges home, although the previous assembly had passed a resolution approving those actions. In the past also all parliaments always validated, through constitutional amendments, all actions taken by martial law regimes.

Advocate Salman Akram Raja, the counsel for Asghar Khan, referred to different orders and documents and alleged that the ISI had disbursed the money for political purposes in breach of their oath. The case will be taken up on Thursday.