"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."
Successive dictators have heaped scorn on Pakistani political leaders accusing them of every wrong that led to the derailment of democracy. It is a fact, to some extent, as scholars and historians have noted that often the political leadership of the country had invited army intervention resulting in long periods of dictatorial rule. Once again, the country is in the grip of a scandal of enormous proportions, in which several leading political figures have been accused of accepting bribes to destabilise the democratic political process in this country.
In the nineties, the formation of Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) raised many eyebrows, as it was a motley coalition of nine major and minor political parties that would normally be at each other’s throats, but had ganged up against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Much worse is that they used religion to further their anti-democratic agenda.
Eventually, the case has now been taken up by the highest constitutional and judicial forum of the country and, therefore, it would not be appropriate to comment on its outcome. However, one thing is clear that the people of Pakistan definitely view it as a golden opportunity to clean the political landscape, which should not be wasted. Meanwhile, those who are found guilty after a transparent judicial process should be banned for life so that they may never be able to pollute the country’s political atmosphere again.
Also, it is quite interesting to know that the former President of Pakistan, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, along with the then Chief of Army Staff, Mirza Aslam Beg, tried to convert his convoluted ideals into a reality and used the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to further his political designs. If that was not enough, the politicians, who belonged to nine different political parties and groups, made it clear that they were eager to be bought and thus offered their services as has been alleged, for a few dimes that in itself is a disgusting phenomenon.
Unfortunately, some political leaders who had a sizeable following among the people, and others who claimed to be the forces of truth, accepted the money being distributed by the government to create an alliance to challenge and destabilise Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s PPP.
Reportedly, the main character of this conspiracy was Reodad Khan, who was heading the election cell created by Ghulam Ishaq Khan in the presidency. It is also said that he pressurised Fauzi Kazmi to institute a fabricated case against President Asif Ali Zardari. Indeed, this is a very serious allegation and it would be in the fitness of things if he responds to the charge of being involved in the illegal distribution of national wealth for an evil cause.
Another character is Younus Habib, Ex-President Mehran Bank, who has in a written statement admitted that both President Ishaq and General Beg pressurised him to distribute Rs400 million to the politicians. He has further stated that it was distributed to disrupt the general elections that, according to them, were “in the country’s national interest." While some named by Mr Habib have hotly contested the allegations levelled by him, the fact remains that knowledgeable people have filed affidavits on oath admitting that the money was distributed to the IJI members.
Mr Habib has further stated that in some cases he personally delivered the money to the politicians, while in one incident it was sent through TT on September 27, 1993. This means that his contention is viable enough to prove that bribery to politicians sometimes leaves a trail of evidence and sometimes it means one man's word against the other.
There is another case of fake degrees, though unrelated with the case of the nine pins. Here, too, several politicians were alleged for contesting the elections by submitting fake graduation degrees to the Election Commission. Although most of them have been deprived of their seats, the punishment that was desirable has not been imposed on any one of them. However, a majority of Pakistanis want all those who presented fake degrees be banned for life from holding any public office in the future. Only then can the country’s political scene be cleaned of the politicians, who do not deserve to come to the forefront creating a false impression that they want to serve the masses.
Coming back to mehrangate, one would like to give some marks to the veteran politician, Syeda Abida Hussain, who had the guts to admit that she received Rs1 million that she returned later. Her statement also proves that the money was distributed, and that no denial or side-tracking of the issue will convince Pakistanis to believe that those who have been named in this gory affair were innocent. It is now up to the government to formulate laws that would not permit any such activity in the future, and that no officeholder, however highly placed, could issue instructions that may lead to the subversion of democracy. Nevertheless, we as a nation are quite confident that after having created a consensus that resulted in the enactment of the 18th, 19th and 20th Constitutional Amendment, the framing of laws that would act as a strong deterrent against any such activity should be well within the reach of the government.
As far as interference in domestic political affairs is concerned, the government can enact laws that will not only discourage, but also streamline the working of the intelligence agencies ensuring that they concentrate on their primary job of safeguarding Pakistan’s territorial integrity. The army should have no objection, if such rules are framed that will not only guide them, but also create conditions where Parliament has the authority to oversee their activities, including the ISI. These measures would help to create conducive conditions where the civilian and army leaderships remain on the same page as far as critical matters related with the state's national interest are concerned.
The army would not like to interfere in a democratic setup and, at the same time, the politicians should avoid hobnobbing with the generals so that there is no mishap in future and the country can progress and prosper. Whatever is the outcome of the Mehran Bank case in the Supreme Court, but one thing is certain: It will become extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any general or politician to create another unholy alliance in the future to challenge the established democratic norms in Pakistan.
n The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.