Mother of all cases?
A testimony of the slim, short, veteran businessman-cum-banker, Yunus Habib, may come in handy when the Supreme Court starts hearing the almost decade-old petition of Air Marshal Asghar Khan on Feb 29, 2012. Habib hit the headlines in the 1990s for his key role in the release of Rs14 million (or maybe more) from his own Mehran Bank to defeat the Benazir Bhutto’s PPP in the next elections.
The affidavit submitted by the then ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, is the first ever confession by any official of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency of the role it played in pre-poll rigging and its direct involvement in political matters. But there is much more to it and all facts must come to the surface.
Though there was an unusual delay in the case being taken up for hearing, one hopes it will proceed as fast as other petitions like the ones dealing with NRO, NICL, the infamous Memo Case or the Haj scam.
Durrani’s affidavit is undoubtedly the most blatant admission of corruption and attempts to rig the polls through direct support of the country’s powerful troika comprising the president, the army chief and the interim president. It is a comment on one of the darkest chapters of our political history and yet another proof of how intelligence agencies have damaged the political process in this country.
In fact, two years before this scandal, the first election in eleven years in 1988 was also manipulated as confessed by the former ISI chief General (retd) Hameed Gul. Gul had the temerity to claim that the anti-PPP alliance Islami Jamoohri Ittehad (IJI) was his brainchild and defend his decision in the name of ‘national interest’ and ‘security’ of Pakistan.
Habib, now in his 70s, is the only person in the scandal who has been punished, though for reasons other than this. His Mehran Bank was closed during Benazir Bhutto’s second government and he was convicted for 10 years but got released in five years because of jail remission. “He has already suffered a lot. He is the only character in this case who has suffered, though he had only paid the money on instructions from powerful quarters. Can a businessman in his position dare to refuse such people?” asks a close friend of Habib.
A key figure in the case, Yonus Habib is the man on whose request money was deposited in the “cover accounts” of politicians and some media-persons too as mentioned in the affidavit of the then ISI chief Lt. General Asad Durrani. But will he tell the truth and nothing but the whole truth before the court as to why he gave the money and on whose directives? Habib is a businessman and still has lots of business interests at stake. It is difficult to expect him to take a position in this case.
It is important to recall that when Habib decided to launch his Mehran Bank during the government of late Chief Minister Jam Sadiq Ali, many politicians were present in the opening ceremony. Even in those days, a number of stories appeared in the newspapers about the way the bank’s permission was granted, but at no stage did anyone raise this possibility that the move might be a cover for the use of funds in the general elections.
The statement of former army chief General Aslam Beg, the only person alive from the troika, would be the most important as the money was distributed among the politicians and media persons on his directives. His statement may unearth the plan to rig the elections. There are some important people still alive who are witness to this shady business and it is important that the scope of this petition is expanded to at least four general elections after 1988.
Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government was sacked on charges of corruption by the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on August 6, 1990, and the same presidency in connivance with the relevant quarters used corruption as a weapon for getting the desired results in the next election. Ironic may seem like an understatement.
So, what a turn around as the case will be heard afresh by the Supreme Court; it was never reopened since the forced retirement of former chief justice of Pakistan Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui. “The case was reserved for judgment when there was enough evidence to confirm the money was distributed by the ISI and the authorities were fully involved,” he had told me in one of his tv interviews.
As in the case of formation of the IJI in 1988, the premier agency appeared to have been behind the making of the alliance Combined Opposition Parties (COP). The alleged plan was to make late G.M. Jatoi the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif would retain Punjab and would also be given a major share at the centre, Jam Sadiq would lead the anti-PPP forces and the MQM will share Sindh. Besides, the MQM will also be given more representation at the centre. The major understanding as per the plan was that Gen. Beg would be the next president, after relaxation of rules.
Sources said that several meetings were held in two different places in Defense Housing Society in Karachi. An election cell was established in the Presidency, which was allegedly looked after by none other than the country’s most seasoned but controversial bureaucrat Roedad Khan.
However, as the then interim premier G.M. Jatoi had disclosed in his last interview, weeks before his death, “there was an understanding that I will be the prime minister but because of some intrigues it was sabotaged.” Elaborating, he had said: “I was informed that I have to lead the COP rally from Peshawar to Karachi. When the procession reached Punjab, people started raising slogan Wazir-e-Azam Nawaz Sharif in one of the public meetings. I immediately told my ADC that I will be going to Karachi by plane. I left the rally which was then led by Nawaz Sharif.”
Later, some of the audio tapes, containing conversations regarding money distribution were also leaked, which resulted in the major “Breaking News.” When Mehran Bank scam was unearthed, questions were also raised about some of the reported corruption cases in the media which were made part of the charge-sheet against the PPP government; these cases were now seen as part of the same conspiracy.
Two days after her government was dismissed on August 6, 1990, former premier Benazir Bhutto had accused the intelligence agencies. “My government was dismissed through a conspiracy by the intelligence agencies after cases were cooked and stories were planted,” she had said.
The outcome of Asghar Khan’s case could vindicate BB’s accusation which, to some extent, has already been done after the submission of Gen. Durrani’s affidavit.
Mehran Bank scam was just a crude form of NRO to please the politicians in order to get the desired results. In both the cases, the central figure was the ‘Sipah-Salar’ of one of the world’s most disciplined armies — both Beg and Musharraf were out to fulfil their hidden ambitions.
Ishaq Khan is now dead but veteran bureaucrat Roedad Khan who is now over 90 can be asked to tell the whole truth in what looks like genuine ‘national interest’. General Aslam Beg’s reported statement that the ISI did it on instructions from the chief executive (by which he means Ishaq Khan) is an eye wash. He stated that the ISI provided the funds to the candidates but in the affidavit it was clearly mentioned that the fund was meant only for candidates belonging to the IJI. Secondly, if the directives did indeed come from the Election Cell of the presidency, the act itself was illegal as president is not the chief executive but the head of the State.
The Incharge of the so-called “Media Cell” should also be called to the court to explain why such a cell existed in the presidency in the first place. If Gen. Beg had filed such a statement in the Supreme Court, it would be a confession, a violation of the army code, an unconstitutional act that was committed without any lawful authority.
Former ISI chief Durrani should also be summoned and asked about the remaining amount of money which, he had stated in the affidavit, was “transferred to a special fund”. He should also inform the court about the money given to the media, while the journalists who are said to be involved should be called to the court to confirm or clear their names from the affidavit.
What is unfortunate is that this was not an isolated incident. All subsequent elections, with the exception of one in 2008, were manipulated in similar way — conspiracies were hatched to either block the PPP victory or a split was created in the party. Retd Maj. Gen. Ehtesham Zameer, who was the head of ISI’s political cell in the 2002 election and is currently a newspaper columnist, should also write about how the PPP-Patriot was created in 2002 and some elections results of Punjab were delayed. It was the PPP’s greatest blunder to agree on an NRO with Gen. Musharraf even if it was a move to force Musharraf to quit as army chief and hold elections.
If the Leader of the Opposition and PML-N legislator Chaudhry Nisar is sincere in his demand, and there is no reason to believe he is not, he should file an application in the Supreme Court with the plea to constitute a powerful judicial commission to fix the responsibility of how the intelligence agencies were used in the manipulation of elections, using corrupt practice to bribe the politicians and the media. The guilty politicians and generals should be punished. The commission should also set rules for the ISI and other agencies to keep away from politics.
And finally the commission should also recommend measures to do away with the secret funds of Ministry of Information and intelligence agencies for the media or at least they should be made transparent and submitted at least to the Public Accounts Committee.
The writer is a senior journalist and former secretary general of the PFUJ.