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Opinion

May 21, 2018
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Truth shall prevail

Opinion

May 21, 2018

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Bow to the truth for its buoyancy. It pops up from strange locations, at odd times, in the weirdest ways possible – to the embarrassment and humiliation of those who attempt to kill and sink it. A pushy army chief careening his career forward by using muscle and the marvelous power of the great institution fortune put under his command; a head of the ISI high on his unassailable position peddling political agenda of the crassest kind; shady donors loaded with money; feuding politicians desperate to outdo each other in a game of snakes and ladders played on a rigged electoral board. This about sums up the famous Asghar Khan case in which dollops of money (by the 90s’ standards) was moved through accounts into the pockets of various politicians apparently to influence the outcome of the 1990 elections, which Nawaz Sharif had won and which were widely believed to be massively rigged.

There is nothing new in the information summarised above. This is all included in the detailed October 19, 2012 judgment of the Supreme Court which had found generals and Younus Habib, the donor, the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the recipients of these funds to be involved in illegal activities deserving of legal actions against them. But the case has come up for investigation after decades of dormancy, because the Supreme Court has now ordered FIA to proceed with the probe and determine penalties. General Aslam Beg and General Durrani, ageing and frail, are both being probed by investigators.

The FIA probe has taken all the old ghosts of history out of the box, refreshing our short national memory about this defining phase in politics. General Beg and General Durrani are slugging it out against each other, one blaming the other of vendetta and the latter suggesting – as he had previously in his signed affidavit that became the basis of late Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s petition to the Supreme Court – that he was only following orders from his top boss.

“I, Lt Gen. (r) M Asad Durrani…do hereby my oath and state on solemn affirmation as under: …In September 1990 as DG ISI, I received instructions from the then COAS…General Aslam Beg to provide ‘logistic support’ to the disbursement of donations made by some businessmen of Karachi to the election campaign of [the] IJI (Note: the 9 party alliance that won the 1990 elections and threw up Nawaz Sharif as prime minister for the first time)…”

General Durrani’s affidavit was given in 1994 when he was enjoying ambassadorship in Germany, appointed by the very Benazir Bhutto, against whose party he had supposedly facilitated the stealing of elections in 1990. Ironies! Gen Beg, in his recent declaration before the FIA investigation team, lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of General Durrani, making him sound either like an independent operator who pushed his political whims through the power of his portfolio or someone working directly in cohorts with the then president, the late Ghulam Ishaq Khan.

General Beg’s unflattering account of Gen Durrani’s conduct makes for painful reading, considering the positions that both the generals have held in the past. General Beg suggests that he in fact warned General Durrani against dragging the army into ‘political engineering’. It is unclear how a DG ISI who was well connected within the civilian setup would end up dragging the army into political engineering against the wishes of the sitting army chief, but so is the argument that the former army head makes in his defence. Regardless of who was pulling the strings and who shares the biggest chunk of responsibility in deforming what could have been a fair and square electoral exercise strengthening revival of democracy after the demise of Ziaul Haq, the justification for this distressing plot is even more scandalising.

This comes in the shape of another sworn statement – by Brigadier Hamid Saeed Akhtar, who was directed by the earlier Supreme Court bench to make his representation on the matter. He had been named as the top member of the team involved in opening accounts for the money transfer and also playing a central role in the eventual political engineering that took place.

The long and short of his statement (he was posted as head of Military Intelligence in Karachi) in the October judgment of the Supreme Court is that the PPP government (1988-1990) had pushed the city of the Quaid to the brink of mortal disaster and murderous mayhem and operations such as the one carried out in Pucca Kila Hyderabad against Urdu-speaking Mohajirs had forced their party to look for Indian help. His statement also notes (strange for his rank and responsibilities) that earlier that year “the PM had also publicly criticised the army or enriching uranium to a level which was not acceptable to big powers. She also gave an interview to BBC in which she mentioned …her support to India in crushing Khalistan movement….(she also) criticised the army for conducting the annual exercise in the Sindh province without her consent.”

Continues the mighty brigadier: “ISPR had to clarify through a press release that under the law [the] COAS was not obliged to seek anyone’s permission for conducting training exercises in any part of the country. All such events were reported by the print media (the equivalent of electronic media at present).”

Other parts of the brigadier’s statement complete the charge sheet against the sitting government by accusing it of offering jobs to Al-Zulfikar workers in government institutions like the Railways, PIA and Customs. He then delivers his final judgment on the status of the first PPP government: “[the] general perception of the common man [how he came to this conclusion in a country of 120 million remains a mystery] was that the ruling party had got the votes but lacked the vision to run the country.”

This charge sheet serves as the basis of his explanation for carrying out the patently illegal orders of General Asad Durrani to open bank accounts and then use the donated funds to be distributed among politicians and to other agencies. Although he does not say that, what becomes clear from his statement is that in the brigadier’s estimate the Benazir Bhutto government deserved to be sacked and replaced by a more reliable and patriotic arrangement, which did not pander to the interests of foreign powers and did not raise silly questions on matters of national security.

It is possible that the brigadier, the army chief, the DG ISI, the then president and all those who took part in this vile exercise of rigging the 1990 elections and piecing together a patchwork of reliable politicians in power did so believing that they were doing the right thing. Just as possible is the scenario in which they took extreme liberties with the constitution and, while going against their oath to the office, defended their actions in their heads and in official meetings on the ground that this was the ‘need of the hour’.

What is impossible is that both the generals could have ever factored into their calculations the possibility of coming face to face with their past in the twilight of their lives. When in power they must have considered themselves beyond the reach of any law or accountability, and must have pushed ahead with their own agendas without any sense of restraint. But life is stranger than fiction. It grinds mountains to dust and shrinks oceans to scorched earth. Now they in their eighties and in the dock explaining their untenable positions to investigators. What a fall from grace.

Would they have done things differently if they had known what could come their way as a consequence of their actions? Maybe. But then you never know. Those who came after them have not done things differently, even though they have had a long list of failed political experiments before them. They learnt nothing from history, thinking – like General Beg and General Asad Durrani did – that they could crush truth under the heel of their power to turn the constitution into a living joke.

The Asghar Khan case makes for maddening reading. How could so few do so much destructive work against the will of so many? What drives you totally insane is the knowledge that the template set by the two has survived so long.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @TalatHussain12

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