One Bhutto legacy
By Ardeshir Cowasjee (" DAWN" OF KARACHI, JANUARY 6,2008)
ON Jan 4 in our national press, on a front page, there appeared a most startling news item under the heading ‘Shujaat says ISI’s political cell should continue working’.The news item quoted his rationale as so tortuously expressed on one of the independent television channels: this undesirable, suspect and sinister body “keeps a watch on political parties and reports their anti-government and anti-state activities”. In the same breath he stated that his party would accept the results of the upcoming general elections.Well, naturally it will, because the chattering Chaudhry obviously intends to make use of the Inter-Services Intelligence organisation’s experienced ‘political cell’ to ensure that the elections are rigged to his party’s satisfaction. So that the question of ‘acceptance’ does not even arise.
The next day, front-paged also, was a not-so-startling news item under the heading ‘PPP for end to ISI role in electoral process’. Quite naturally, the PPP has accused the ISI, inter alia, of indulging in “pre-poll rigging”.How was this political cell formed and why? In 1975 Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, that man of great perspicacity, ruling under an ‘emergency’ and exercising his finite wisdom, issued an executive order creating this political cell within the ISI for purposes that do not have to be spelt out. It eventually was one of the factors that led to his downfall and execution. He used it as the almost incomprehensible Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of the fiefdom of Gujrat intends to now use it again. But Zulfikar overused it to unnecessarily rig his general elections of March 1977 which subsequently caused an uprising of the opposition, trouble and turmoil in the land, and the inevitable military takeover. After his use of this political cell, it was all downhill for him.
The Gujrat Chaudhry should be warned. Over-rigging does not pay.The cell was subsequently made much use of by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in cahoots with his army chief, General Mirza Aslam Beg, to form a political alliance, using public money and funds provided by Yunus Habib of Mehran Bank, to rig the 1990 elections, bring in the Ziaul Haq-groomed Nawaz Sharif as prime minister and stop the dismissed Benazir Bhutto from coming in again. It was a successful operation, as the concerned luminaries and we all know. The details of the ISI shenanigans have been written of in the press time and time again, and pleas have been made that the cell should be disbanded so that the military has no involvement at all in the political process of this country — as was recommended by General Asif Nawaz when he was the COAS in the early 1990s.
In 1996, on the floor of the National Assembly, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s interior minister retired Lt-Gen Naseerullah Babar announced that the then former chief of army staff, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, had in 1990 handed over to the then chief of the ISI, Lt-Gen Asad Durrani, an amount of Rs140m withdrawn from Mehran Bank and instructed him to use the money to purchase a selection of anti-PPP politicians and ensure that Nawaz Sharif’s IJI was brought to power.Shortly thereafter, retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan wrote a letter to the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Sajjad Ali Shah, requesting him to take note of the matter of the ISI and its political interference. The Chief Justice did so and the letter was converted into Human Rights Petition 19/96. Beg, Durrani and Habib were cited as respondents.
Hearings commenced in Feb 1997, initially in camera on the request of the ISI insofar as its legal standing was concerned, and continued on sporadically, the last hearing being on Oct 11, 1999 when the then Chief Justice, Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, announced that he had reserved judgment in the case. General Pervez Musharraf assumed all powers unto himself the next day. (Full details of the case and its background can be found in Asghar Khan’s book, We’ve Learnt Nothing from History published by OUP in 2005.)
To give due credit to Benazir Bhutto, in her first term of office she correctly appointed the late upright officer, Air Chief Marshal Zulfikar Ali Khan, to head a commission to review the working of the security and intelligence agencies of the country, amongst them the ISI. One of his findings (March 27, 1989) is revealing and pertinent:
“Another undesirable aspect of the working of certain intelligence agencies was their conduct in the recent general elections and to the subsequent transfer of power to elected representatives of the people. Arrogating to themselves the exclusive right to patriotism, they tried to manipulate the results in favour or against certain political parties by threats and coercion, persuasion and offers of bribes. Subsequently, efforts were made to destabilise the government duly established by law and these agencies tried to act as virtual king-makers. In normal times, this should have entailed severe punishment for the individuals concerned, but I realise that under martial law such activities are considered valid. The least that should be done to redress the situation is to transfer the key personnel of the agencies concerned without delay, as the posting out of lesser functionaries does not seem to have produced the desired results….”
No prime minister or president since then has sought to curb the powers of the ISI’s political cell and its meddling in political affairs. In fact, they have used it in various nefarious ways to further their terms in office. No Chief Justice since Justice Siddiqui has been able to take on the ISI and hear the case filed by Asghar Khan and finally deliver judgment. What is it — a lack of guts or the reluctance to rock the boat?
Chief Justice Siddiqui was followed by Irshad Hasan Khan, Bashir Jehangiri, Sheikh Riaz Ahmed, Nazim Hussain Siddiqui and then Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Today, almost 12 long years later, Human Rights Petition 19/96 remains shelved. Each successive Chief Justice of our Supreme Court has found it prudent to leave the petition undecided. It is too much to expect that the present Chief Justice, placed as precariously as he is, and under the firm guidance of President Gen Pervez Musharraf, will even consider seeing this petition to its finality. (It can also safely be said that the case of the 200 or so missing persons so bravely taken up by the dismissed Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, will also not for the time being see the light of day or justice.)
In these elections of 2008, the ISI and its cell are surely once more well into the act, egged on as they are by the Chaudhry of Gujrat. Alas, for the nation and its much-touted ‘national interest.’email@example.com