Hearing the Asghar Khan case, which heard details of how the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) distributed millions of rupees to rig 1990 elections to harm Benazir’s chances of winning, the Supreme Court observed on Monday that the ISI was not authorised to have a political cell (through which the money was channelled). Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was heading the three-member bench, told Attorney General Irfan Qadir that since the ISI was under the Prime Minister he should be informed about it and if any such cell was still operating, it must be closed. For, nobody had the right to ruin (the prospects of) a government (coming into power) by using national funds. He added that it had been proven by the testimonies of former COAS General Aslam Beg and ISI Chief Lt-General Asad Durrani that the intelligence outfit did distribute money among politicians. All that was now needed was to establish who received it. And all those responsible for this scandalous deal would be penalised, he said. To go to the depth of the issue, the court had earlier asked for the presentation of the notification setting up the cell. Both the Attorney-General and Defence Secretary Nargis Sathi pleaded their inability to trace it, saying that it was issued as far back as 38 years ago. They promised, however, to make another try when the Chief Justice said that deciding the case, without that document, would be difficult.
There is indeed no justification for any interference into internal political matters by another institution of the state, that is not permissible under the Constitution. The Supreme Court's prescription for the immediate dissolution of any political cell is a sound one. However, the order has been given to the Prime Minister. This is constitutionally correct, and a golden opportunity for a civilian government to prove that it is indeed up to the task of controlling the intelligence structure that falls under its purview. Intelligence agencies are crucial for protecting Pakistan's defence interests and to ensure its security and prevent any major embarrassments of security lapses, as have been witnessed in the not too recent past. The focus of our intelligence should be on our security, not on meddling in local politics, to the detriment of the democratic system. One hopes that the Prime Minister is strong enough to seize the opportunity and refine the role and image of the intelligence agencies, to their and Pakistan's lasting benefit.