ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan army has said that it will assist the apex court to prosecute retired top-ranking military officers allegedly involved in the politically engineering of the 1990 general elections in favor of military-backed candidates and in bribing politicians and journalists.
The “Asghar Khan case” is named after Air Marshall (retired) Asghar Khan who filed a human rights petition to Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 1996 accusing former officers of covertly funding electoral campaigns, buying political loyalties and influencers, and the formation of a short-lived political party to manipulate the country’s national elections to defeat assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Among the accused were ex-army chief (retired) Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg and ex-spymaster of Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) — Pakistan’s prime intelligence agency — (retired) Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani.
The Ministry of Defense submitted a letter to the superior court saying that the military was willing to hold a trial and prosecute the former accused officers, a report in a local daily citing a senior official suggested.
The Army's Director General Lawfare Directorate (DGLP), formerly known as the Judge Advocate General, has consulted the office of the federation’s Attorney General (AG) Ashtar Ausaf Ali to take legal action against the accused former top brass. AG had suggested to the court that the retired officers case be referred to the military.
Legal expert and former law ministry adviser, Sharafat Ali, said that the sudden interest of the army in the decades'-old case is questionable.
He told Arab News: “The civil court can absolutely prosecute retired officers” who have subverted the constitution but the court is taking a lenient position toward retired men of the armed forces in his opinion.
He pointed to the case of former military ruler (retired) Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is a declared absconder yet the court allowed him to submit nomination papers and said that it would not to arrest him on his return to Pakistan.
“It seems there may be political factors more than legal,” Ali said.
Since the DGLP is not authorized to speak to the media, it is unclear what punishment the military court would hand down to the former officers, apart from stripping them of retirement benefits and allotted land.
A panel of judges headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar has promised an early conclusion to the case and ordered all state institutions to cooperate with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which has widened its probe beyond certain named politicians and personalities.
Some of those implicated in receiving millions of rupees include former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party won the 1990 elections, Abida Hussain, Altaf Hussain Qureshi, Maulana Salahuddin, Humayun Marri, Zafarullah Jamali, Kadir Baloch, Sarwar Khan Kakar, Hasim Bazenjo, Nadeem Mengal, Muzaffar Hussain Shah, Ghulam Ali Nizamani, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, Liaqat Jatoi, Imtiaz Sheikh, Jam Mashooq, Jam Haider, Dost Muhammad Faizi, Javed Hashmi and Altaf Hussain.
Nearly all have denied the charge, raising concerns that the case is even viable. Political analyst Qamar Cheema believes that the case is being dragged intentionally.
“They will try to prolong the case so that with the change of top judicial and military leadership the case progress slows down. If Musharraf has not been punished, there is a very bleak chance that army officers in Asghar Khan case may be punished,” Cheema told Arab News.