Judging the generals
[Dawn] "THE elections are stolen," a stunned Benazir Bhutto declared after the 1990 general elections. More than two decades later, she has been vindicated by the Supreme Court judgment.
The landmark ruling implicating the ex-army and ISI chiefs in the election rigging does not make amends for past wrongs, but it certainly sends a strong message to potential plotters. The ruling entails far-reaching political consequences as the country comes close to the next general elections. Whether or not Gen Aslam Beg and Gen Asad Durrani, the two main accused in the Asghar Khan case, are put on trial for violation of the constitution as directed by the Supreme Court, the ruling has opened up a Pandora's box the political fallout of which will not be easy to contain. There was nothing in the case which the people were not aware of or that had not been written about. The Supreme Court has only validated what has been known all along.
It is not just the army and intelligence agencies that have been hit by the Supreme Court ruling. It has also brought into question once again the complicity of some top politicians in this sordid game of political manipulation. They were equally responsible for undermining the democratic process in the country. Notwithstanding a few exceptions, most of the political parties wittingly or unwittingly played into the hands of the military and intelligence agencies in the game of musical chairs of power played out in the 1990s. Many of them later on even became part of Gen Musharraf's military regime.
What happened in the 1990 elections was not an isolated phenomenon. The long shadow of the generals had darkened the political scene throughout the so-called decade of democratically elected civilian rule. To be sure, the restoration of democracy in 1988, following the end of Gen Zia's military regime, was not a clean break from military rule.
The return to the barracks did not mean that the military's structure of control and manipulation had been dismantled. The army chief remained a power behind the scenes in alliance with the president as has become evident in the Asghar Khan case.
This arrangement of power without responsibility best suited the military.
The disclosure about the distribution of money by the ISI to the politicians during the 1990 elections is just the tip of the iceberg. The involvement of the military and the intelligence agencies in political manipulation has been much more deep-rooted. It all started with the formation by the military of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI,) an alliance of right-wing parties representing Gen Zia's legacy to counter the PPP and prevent it from coming to power. The ISI chief would even sit in at IJI meetings.
Also, there is absolutely no doubt that the 1988 elections were rigged to contain the PPP's sweeping win. The generals never reconciled with Benazir Bhutto's first government. Not to forget that the ISI was directly involved in the infamous operation Midnight Jackal to buy over support of PPP members for a no-confidence vote against Ms Bhutto. She was finally ousted from power in a constitutional coup just 18 months into her term. Ms Bhutto publicly accused Gen Durrani, the then head of the Military Intelligence, of plotting against her government.
Posted by: Fred