THE resurrection on television last Wednesday by the former chief justice of Pakistan, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, of the old story of Air Marshal Asghar Khan's petition to the Supreme Court regarding the ISI and the political system came as a welcome surprise (justice awoken?).
The Supreme Court story starts with a letter dated June 16, 1996 addressed by Asghar Khan to the then chief justice of Pakistan Sajjad Ali Shah drawing his attention to 'the disclosure by the minister for interior in the National Assembly on 11 June 1996 that General (retd) Aslam Beg, a former chief of the army staff, had drawn Rs15 crores from the Mehran Bank and had distributed this amount to various people prior to the 1990 elections. He disclosed that this had been done through Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, the director general of the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate, at the time. General Durrani's statement was read out in the National Assembly....'
The air marshal was advised by the Supreme Court on Oct 28, 1996 that his letter had been converted by the CJP into a petition and registered as Human Rights Case 19/1996, its first hearing to be on Nov 3 of that year.
During the hearings of the petition presented in court was a copy of a letter dated June 7, 1994 written by Asad Durrani to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto listing recipients of the payoffs made by the ISI. Also presented by Lt Gen Naseerullah Babar, the interior minister who had made the disclosure, was a copy of a bank account sheet listing further payments and another list provided by Younas Habib of Mehran Bank of further payoffs made to our political minions between 1991 and 1994. Space precludes the reproduction of these lists but they can be found in my column 'We never learn from history - 7' printed in this newspaper on Aug 12 2007.
Mian Nawaz Sharif figures prominently amongst the host of recipients. Conjecture in the media is that the resurrection of this matter at this particular point in time has much to do with the perceived 'get Nawaz' operation now being conducted by certain quarters — though Nawaz may well have covered his flanks. Whatever be the motive, the petition needs to be heard and decided.
Now to repeat what I had written on Jan 22, 2006 'The last hearing of the case was on Oct 11, 1999, one day before the army, under General Pervez Musharraf, had little option but to overthrow the 'heavily mandated' Nawaz Sharif government. The then CJP, Saiduzzaman Siddiqui, announced that he had reserved judgment in the ISI case.
'Before he could write his judgment, Lt General Naseerullah Babar saw him in chambers and prevailed upon him to send notice to and examine Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari and others mentioned on the lists before announcing his judgment. In the interest of justice, the CJP ordered that the desired notices be issued.
'Thereafter, the case was apparently 'morgued'. Asghar on several occasions reminded Saiduzzaman's successor CJP Irshad Hasan Khan (who after retirement was appointed chief election commissioner to 'supervise' the 2002 elections), and requested him to take up the case but he received no response.
'On August 10 2002, Asghar addressed a letter to the succeeding CJP, Sheikh Riaz Ahmad, its subject 'HRC No.19/96, Air Marshal (R) Mohammad Asghar Khan versus General (R) Mirza Aslam Beg'.
'It reads 'I should like to draw you attention to my letter MAK/12/5 addressed to your predecessor on 8 April 2000 requesting that the above case may please be reopened. I have received no reply to this letter and elections are due on 10 October 2002. Many of the people who are guilty of misconduct will, if the case is not heard, be taking part in the elections and the purpose of those elections will thus be defeated. I would request an early hearing and decision in this case.' There was no response. Justice slept.'
Many of the people guilty of gross misconduct and corruption did take part in the elections and sat in our assemblies and Senate from 2002 to 2007, and many still sit after the 2008 elections.
President Gen Pervez Musharraf admitted after the 2002 elections that he was helpless before the 'system', the parliamentary form of governance, and presumably a dishonest and corrupted election commission. He told the people that he had no option but to have in his government rogues, robbers and other criminal elements who should rightly be behind bars. We are sure that President Asif Ali Zardari holds the same opinion about the last elections which brought his party and then him to power.
The indefatigable warrior, Asghar Khan, did his bit prior to the 2008 elections. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, after being declared non-functional in March 2007 was fully restored on July 20, 2007 by a Supreme Court order. On Aug 8, 2007 Asghar addressed a letter to him on the subject of HRC 19/96 'Sir, I seek your indulgence. My petition No.19 filed in 1996 is pending in the Supreme Court. I should be greatly obliged if you would kindly order that it be urgently heard and adjudged. I may mention that I am now 86 years of age. Thanking you in anticipation.'
Nov 3, 2007 intervened. But now, CJP Chaudhry is back and firing broadsides. Will he please resume the hearing of the battling octogenarian's petition — a matter of concern and much importance?