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- Thursday, March 15, 2012 - From Print Edition

The power of the media is working wonders on the Pakistani political scene. Issues thought to be long dead are resurfacing just because the media won’t allow them to die. A case in point being the so-called Mehrangate scandal.

This particular matter has been lurking in the political consciousness for decades but no one thought it would ever emerge. It is a sign of the times, and more importantly the diligence of the media, that has forced it out in the open.

All credit to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and the Supreme Court for finally taking it up. This court is demonstrating again and again not only its fierce independence but the courage to wade into waters where others have feared to tread.

Whether the case reaches its appropriate conclusion where all the ‘givers and takers’ are put behind bars is hard to tell. But, it has already exposed some sordid details. The claims made by Younis Habib are shocking. The bare facts were always known. But, taking money in cash, as he alleges that Nawaz Sharif did, is something to behold. As is the money handed over allegedly to Ijaz ul Haq’s mother.

There will be denials as there always are and media machines would be unleashed to obfuscate, question the credibility of witnesses, sidetrack the main issue. But, the bare facts won’t die. Not all the scents of Arabia, to paraphrase Lady Macbeth, would cover the stink coming out of this.

This Mehrangate business is lived history for some of us. Those who know the mood of those times would find it difficult to deny its basic premise. There were a number of factors at play when Zia ul Haq died, the most important being that the oligarchy he left behind hated the very thought of Benazir Bhutto coming into power. It is not a surprise then that the ISI put together all its favoured political players in something called Islami Jamhoori Ittehad or IJI.

But one strain of the games being played then seldom gets the scrutiny it deserves. Aslam Beg had been denied the rulership of this country after Zia’s death because the army felt it needed to withdraw after being eleven years in power. This however did not stop Beg’s over vaulting ambition.

He played a complicated game in which people like Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Nawaz Sharif, for their own reasons, were willing accomplices. I distinctly remember that soon after Benazir became prime minister, Nawaz openly declared that this set-up would not last. He said that because he knew what Beg was planning.

So those twenty months of the first PPP government were laced with one intrigue after another, often instigated by intelligence agencies but led publicly by Nawaz Sharif. There were attempts to buy off MNA’s in operation midnight jackal, orchestrated by Brigadier Imtiaz, a vote of no confidence spearheaded by Nawaz that failed and eventually sacking of the government by the president when no other option was left.

Throughout these twenty months of intrigues and attempts at destabilization, the principal players were Ishaq Khan, the president, Aslam Beg, the army chief and Nawaz Sharif, the then chief minister of Punjab. People like Hamid Gul earlier, and Asad Durrani later were only instruments of their purpose, mere cogs in the machine.

Beg’s basic game was to somehow engineer circumstances where he would be able to take over. This could only be possible if the most popular politician in the country, Benazir Bhutto was discredited. He felt, wrongly as it turned out, that once she was out of the way, those of a lesser stature like Nawaz or Jatio could be dealt with.

His main worry though was that while Benazir could be ousted by presidential fiat, how to defeat her in an election as she was still the most popular leader in the country. Don’t forget this was not 2012 but 1990 when the PPP was not the much maligned party it is today. It had fought valiantly against the Zia dictatorship and Benazir was a much revered figure.

This electoral management was done by supporting the IJI to the hilt and then to make doubly sure, rigging the election. The Younis Habib saga was a part of this overall strategy. Huge sums of money were raised and some distributed. Not all, because the way of our world is that whichever hand the money passes through keeps some of it.

There is sufficient evidence that Beg took some and so did others who were conduits but a fair part of it was delivered. Given the larger intrigue and the mood then prevailing, there is little reason to doubt that Nawaz Sharif and others did accept money from the likes of Younis Habib.

Beg was of course thwarted in his ambition to take over because Ghulam Ishaq Khan got on to his game after the PPP was ousted and a new government led by Nawaz took over. In an unprecedented act, he announced Beg’s successor two months before his retirement, thus making him a lame duck and unable to engineer anything.

The Mehrangate intrigues and whatever Beg and people like Nawaz did unsettled the nascent democracy that was attempting to take root after eleven years of the most draconian dictatorship this country has ever seen. A chain of intrigues and counter intrigues was unleashed in which none of the governments in the eleven years after 1988 were able to complete tenure.

It is all very well for Nawaz and the PML-N to curse and abuse Musharraf but if they look within, they would realise that the seeds for whatever happened in October 12, 1999 were laid in the Mehrangate episode and in other such nefarious schemes he and his military partners played in those eleven years.

We keep trotting out Santayana in times like these to remind everyone that those that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. But, it is time that something actually is done to go beyond mere repeating of philosophical quotes and to actually hold people to account for their misdeeds. Only then the lesson behind what Santayana said will properly sink in.

The Supreme Court has a moral responsibility to not let this Mehrangate episode become another unfinished story. In the process a fair amount of dirty linen will be washed and the scum floating around the water would not reflect too well on us as a nation.

But, there is no choice. Truth has to come out and the perpetrators must be punished otherwise episodes like Mehrangate will continue to fester in the collective psyche of the nation. If the proper lessons are learnt, we will be able to put the establishment finally to rest.

The writer is information secretary of the PTI. Email: [email protected]