Courting confusion as usual

Last week's Supreme Court verdict holding military men responsible for rigging elections in 1990 is unlikely to discourage the armed forces from interfering in Pakistan's politics

Pakistan's Supreme Court last week gave a short order on a 16-year-old petition from 1996 by Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan challenging the army's intervention in the 1990 elections. The then army chief, Mirza Aslam Beg, and his chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani, were accused of bribing a number of politicians to influence the elections.

Many in Pakistan view the decision as another watershed judgment that will block any future military intervention in politics. The superior court was of the opinion that the army, its intelligence agencies and presidency should abstain from interfering with people's freedom and fundamental right to elect their representatives. The army and ISI had colluded with then President Ishaq Khan to ensure Benazir Bhutto didn't get elected. Thus, in a short order, the SC held Beg and Durrani responsible for rigging the 1990 elections and ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate the culprits, including the politicians who took bribes, and the government to recover the money.

The question is, where does Pakistan stand today due to this decision? Will this ensure the military's accountability and discourage it from forcibly taking over the state?

The court has also instructed the ISI and military intelligence not to have any political cells that are used to manipulate politics. However, the army has claimed through the defence secretary, who is a retired army general, that it closed down the political cell five years ago. The question is, how does one trust this statement, given that a political cell was never part of the ISI or the army's structure, and there is no guarantee that it was closed down or will not reappear in the future? For instance, the former ISI chief Lt Gen (retd) Ahmed Shuja Pasha's alleged support for Imran Khan's party was also an intervention that may have happened with or without a full-fledged political cell that is, if we are to believe the claim that such a cell has not existed for the past five years.

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