News Analysis |
On Monday, the Supreme Court has issued the authorities a four-week-long deadline to complete the investigations against the army officers– who have been accused of manipulating the 1990 general election by distributing millions worth of funds amongst politicians– in the Asghar Khan Case.
Justice Gulzar Ahmed headed the three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Faisal Arab and ordered the Ministry of Defence to wrap up its inquiry within a month. The ministry has been ordered to provide the bench with a response on the implementation of the verdict issued on the Asghar Khan case in 2012.
Asghar Khan accused (R) Army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg and (R) DJ Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Asad Durrani of dolling out these funds to ensure the defeat of then PPP leader, Benazir Bhutto.
Justice Gulzar admonished the Ministry of Defence for failing to begin the court-martial action against the accused officers. He also reprimanded the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and asserted that it “had lost interest in the case”. The three-judge bench stated that the report submitted by the FIA will be examined alongside the ministry’s response to make a final decision.
Justice Gulzar Ahmed inquired why the ministry had failed to invoke a court-martial against the accused officers. Anwar Mansoor Khan, Attorney General, stated that court-martial proceedings would begin after gathering all the evidence and completing the investigation. He informed the judges that court-martial proceedings against corruption or fraud could even be started after the officer in question’s retirement.
The judge noted that in its report, the FIA had discussed its inability to gather evidence from the banks as they do not keep records older than 28 years. The judge announced the decision to “summon the heads of the banks” to disclose further evidence.
Failure to Add Altaf Hussain & MQM to the FIA Report
Justice Ahmed further inquired why Altaf Hussain and his party MQM had not been added to the FIA report or the case when they have also been recipients of the money handed out to politicians while manipulating the 1990 General Election. The Attorney General informed the judge that Altaf Hussain’s name was added to the FIA report; however, further investigation had to be halted since he is not in the country and the British authorities have been contacted to negotiate the extradition of the MQM founder.
The FIA also revealed that (R) Brig Hamid Saeed disclosed that the politicians who received the money provided receipts, which have not been given to the FIA investigation team.
The Defense Ministry informed the court that the investigation process is still ongoing, and the authorities will take due action once the inquiry is completed.
Justice Gulzar asked for Altaf Hussain’s part in the election manipulation conspiracy to be fully revealed. He stated that during the initial phases of the Asghar Khan case, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Altaf Hussain were mentioned as beneficiaries throughout the case reports. He demanded to know why the FIA report did not mention the role played by MQM and Altaf Hussain.
FIA Expressed Failure in Gathering Key Evidence
On 9th February, the FIA submitted its final report and informed the Supreme Court about challenges in collecting evidence to conduct a rational investigation in the Asghar Khan Case. The FIA revealed that all the key witnesses, including (R) Brig Hamid and key politicians Saeed, were interrogated, along with examining bank records and statements of the relevant bank officers. The FIA also exchanged information with NAB, PEMRA, and the Ministry of Defence.
The FIA further stated that a major challenge to the ongoing investigation was that no army officer recorded a statement that discloses the direct dispensation of money to a private individual. “The documents obtained from (R) Brig Hamid Saeed reveal that the money was handed out in Sindh, however, it did not reveal the army officers who had handed out the funds.”
The FIA also revealed that (R) Brig Hamid Saeed disclosed that the politicians who received the money provided receipts, which have not been given to the FIA investigation team. “(R) Brig Hamid Saeed disclosed that these receipts were submitted at the GHQ, however, when (R) General Durrani was questioned about these receipts, he denied their existence”.
On 11th February, the Supreme Court has given the Ministry of Defence a four-week deadline to provide a response on the implementation of SC’s 2012 verdict and initiate court-martial proceedings immediately.
FIA also failed to find out the identities of the intelligence agency personnel who had handed out the money throughout Punjab and other provinces. Moreover, the FIA authorities also revealed that they could not succeed in verifying the money trail since “certain bank details that are vital to complete the money trail have not been made available to the FIA”.
The Asghar Khan Case
On 16th June 1996, (R) Air Marshal Asghar Khan approached the Supreme Court with accusations against senior army officers, the ISI, and President Ghulam Ishaq of distributing Rs140m amongst politicians in attempts to manipulate the 1990 General Election. Asghar Khan accused (R) Army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg and (R) DJ Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Asad Durrani of dolling out these funds to ensure the defeat of then PPP leader, Benazir Bhutto.
Read more: Remembering Air Marshal Asghar Khan
Allegedly, the money was distributed through Younas Habib, former Chief Executive of the now defunct Mehran Bank. This case was pursued by Asghar Khan after allegations were made by retired general Naseerullah Babar, interior minister during Benazir Bhutto’s term, against the ISI of manipulating the 1990 elections and distributing money to “purchase the loyalty” of key public figures and politicians aimed at ensuring the defeat of Benazir Bhutto. It is said that just after 9 months of Benazir Bhutto’s premiership, ISI also used the money to bring no vote confidence against her and also to manage an electoral victory for Nawaz Sharif.
In 2012, the Apex court announced a landmark verdict in the Asghar Khan Case, ordering legal proceedings against former Army Chief (R) General Aslam Baig and former DG ISI (R) General Asad Durrani. The two senior army officials were accused of funding politicians to manipulate the 1990 election and prevent PPP from winning.
Fawad Chaudhary, Federal Minister for Information, welcomed the SC proceedings on the case and mentioned that Prime Minister Imran Khan had already directed the FIA to implement the verdict of SC.
On 21st November 2012, (R) General Asad Durrani filed a petition against Supreme Court’s verdict, which was rejected by the Supreme Court on 7th May 2018. Following this, (R) General Aslam Baig and (R) General Asad Durrani had to appear before an FIA committee for interrogations.
On 12th January this year, (R) Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar had rejected the suggestions made by the FIA of closing the Asghar Khan case due to lack of evidence. CJP Nisar had stated that the Pakistan Army is “not exempted from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court”. On 11th February, the Supreme Court has given the Ministry of Defence a four-week deadline to provide a response on the implementation of SC’s 2012 verdict and initiate court-martial proceedings immediately.
Significance and Impact of Case
During the course of the inquiry, ISI head Lt. General Asad Durrani has confessed that money was distrusted to buy loyalties of politicians to manage elections for Nawaz Sharif. He also submitted an affidavit, giving names of the politicians as well as journalists, editors, and owners. Not just Durrani, Younis Habib (CEO of the now defunct Mehran Bank) who had appeared in court during a hearing in 2012, talked to the reporters afterward and mentioned the name of politicians to whom the money was given.
However, the only notable figure, who is relevant to this day, is Nawaz Sharif, who, according to the affidavit, received Rs 3.5 million. Equating the amount in terms of Gold prices, the Rs 3.5 million of the 1990s, translates to Rs 60 million in the current era.
Fawad Chaudhary, Federal Minister for Information, welcomed the SC proceedings on the case and mentioned that Prime Minister Imran Khan had already directed the FIA to implement the verdict of SC. Minister said that the case reveals the political career and basic characteristic of PMLN. He also took a jibe on PPP’s chairperson Bilawal Bhutto and said that political heir of Benazir Bhutto is no standing with Nawaz Sharif.
اصغر خان کیس پر سپریم کورٹ کا بنچ خوش آئندہے، وزیر اعظم پہلے ہی FIA کو ہدایات جاری کر چکے ہیں کہ کیس میں سپریم کورٹ کے فیصلے پر من وعن عمل کیا جائے یہ مقدمہ نون لیگ کے سیاسی کردار کو عیاں کرتا ہے دلچسپ امر یہ ہے کہ بے نظیر بھٹو شہید کے سیاسی وارث آج نواز لیگ کی گود میں بیٹھے ہیں
— Ch Fawad Hussain (@fawadchaudhry) February 9, 2019
Nawaz Sharif had though denied receiving money, political pundits say since he knew that tracing the money would not be that easy, Sharif took benefits of technicalities.
Analysts opine although the proceeding of the case the case has revealed many names and involvement of agencies in engineering the elections; the impact would be much heavier on Sharif’s politics whose party now claims to be defenders of “democracy” and blame PM Khan to be “selected by special powers”.
Mina Jahangir with additional input by News Desk.