ISLAMABAD - A three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry will resume hearing on February 29 on a petition filed by Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan some 16 years ago against distribution of millions of rupees among anti-Pakistan People’s Party politicians by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to maneuver the 1990 election. The other members of the bench are – Justice Khilji Arif Hussain and Justice Tariq Parvez. The petitioner will appear in person while Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq will appear on notice.
Senior advocates Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, Habibul Wahabul Khairi, Akram Sheikh and Salman Akram Raja will also appear in the case. The top legal brains as well as politicians believe that the case will have irrevocable effects on the forthcoming general elections, besides shaking everyone from top to bottom in the executive and military establishments.
In June 1996, a human rights petition was filed by Asghar Khan with the SC making the retired chief of army staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg, former ISI director general Lt Gen Asad Durrani and Younis Habib of Habib and Mehran Banks respondents.
In his petition, Asghar Khan had asked the then chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah to take appropriate action on the statement of then interior minister Maj Gen (r) Naseerullah Khan Babar in the National Assembly. “The ISI collected some Rs 140 million from the Habib Bank Ltd and distributed among a number of politicians prior to the 1990 elections with a view to manipulate the results in favour of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI)”.
Shah was hearing the case when he was shown the door in November 1997 by his fellow judges following a mutiny, allegedly maneuvered by then Nawaz Sharif government.
Asghar Khan’s case, which is commonly known as Mehrangate scandal will particularly dent the political image of the PML-N. Besides, lawyers and politicians, civil society activists and even the military men also believe that the repercussions of Mehrangate scandal would be much reverberating and more pervasive having potential to shake everyone from top to bottom in the executive and military establishments. In his petition filed through Habibul Wahabul Khairi, Asghar Khan had sought punishment for all politicians who had received funds from the ISI. He had alleged that Rs 140 million were distributed among politicians during the regime of president Ghulam Ishaq Khan to maneuver the 1990 elections.
The funds were only given to right-wing politicians, who would go on to form the IJI, an alliance pitched against the PPP. The IJI was the final nail in the coffin in ensuring the formation of the then PML government headed by Nawaz Sharif.
The affidavits and evidence submitted by respondents before the court and first-hand accounts from the beneficiaries so far substantiate the allegations that the ISI did give funds to elements within the IJI. However, the most important issue after ascertaining guilt is to figure out the options available to the Supreme Court to correct this historical wrong.
Questions that are being asked albeit in a hushed manner are if the court will bar all guilty politicians and parties from contesting future elections especially since many are still active in politics. What punishment will be given to the former military bosses, who were privy to this exercise and approved its formal operation? Lastly, what possible observation or ruling can the court come up with to deter the ISI and other intelligence agencies from this practice?
Most of the senior lawyers including Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, Khalid Anwar, Dr Khalid Ranjha, Justice (r) Tariq Mahmood, Hamid Khan, Barrister Zafarullah Khan and Ikram Chaudhry suggest that the court should form a high-powered commission not only to investigate the particular incident highlighted by Asghar Khan, but also the other incidents in the history of Pakistan where ISI provided money to politicians. They believe that it is essential for democracy and national security in future.
They said the case would certainly lead to embarrassment for the politicians. They said if it is proved that a certain politician received money from the ISI, the court can only pass an observation that it was an unbecoming act on his part, besides it can only ask institutions such as the ISI to stay away from politics in future.
Per details of the petition, payments of up to Rs 140 million were allegedly made under the alleged instructions of General Mirza Aslam Beg by the ISI via the owner of Mehran Bank, Younis Habib. Intelligence funds were deposited in Mehran Bank in 1992 propping up what was an insolvent bank as a favour for its owners help in loaning money to the ISI in 1990 that was used in the creation of the right wing alliance IJI and bankrolling the campaigns of many opponents of the PPP.
In his written reply submitted with the Supreme Court during the tenure of Shah and reported by the media, General Aslam Beg had conceded that it had been a routine for the ISI to support the favourite candidates in elections under directives of the successive chief executives.
Afterwards, former ISI DG Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani had conceded in an affidavit submitted with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) that his political cell had received Rs 140 million from Younis Habib to be distributed among anti-PPP politicians at the behest of General Beg. The 1990 election was subsequently won by the IJI led by Nawaz, who had allegedly received Rs 3.5 million from the ISI fund for his election campaign.