A rumpus over the truth
THE omens are that the Pak people's celebration of the Supreme Court's (SC) rulings on Air Marshal Asghar Khan's petition about the rigging of the 1990 general election is going to be short-lived.
It is not possible to recall without a touch of sadness the long time the people were kept waiting for the wheels of justice to turn. How many twists in the country's tale of woes might have been avoided had timely notice been taken of the aggrieved parties' publication How an election was stolen in 1991? The case under reference is a classic illustration of the adage that justice delayed is justice denied. Now that the SC has given its finding a whole brigade of spoilsports has jumped into the arena to nullify it.
Taken objectively, the court's verdict should have led to a strengthening of the democratic institutions against any extra-constitutional challenge. This is unlikely to happen because the political parties that matter appear to be more keen to indulge in partisan games than to put up a united front against the usurpers of the people's rights.
Although some observers have complained of its inadequacy in certain respects there is little ambiguity about the short order announced by the SC. The charge of interference in the electoral process against the two generals commanding the army and the ISI in 1990 has been established by the record before the court. The charge against collaborators among political figures calls for further inquiry. That process is unlikely to be smooth.
The main opposition party has rejected a probe by the agency named by the court, without pausing to ponder the damage caused to its claim as the foremost defender of judicial activism. It has also been alleged that practically no one is free from the stigma of using money to rig the polls. A section of public opinion favours the creation of a commission or a truth and reconciliation commission. Neither of these proposals promises early action against the military officers or their civilian cohorts. Our capacity to make a mess of fair practices developed abroad -- such as a truth and reconciliation commission -- is no secret.
But more important than punishing those responsible for the 1990 rigging is the need to make recurrence of that shameful episode impossible. That objective cannot be achieved without a national consensus on the inviolability of the principle that politicians will come into power and will be made to bow out only through a free, fair and democratic election. To what extent the SC decision will go in that direction will become clearer when the court's detailed judgment is released.
For instance, it will be necessary to examine the grounds on which the SC concluded that the two generals in the dock "participated in the unlawful activities of the election cell in violation of the responsibilities of the army and ISI as institutions, which is an act of individuals but not of institutions represented by them, respectively" (emphasis added).
The short order is premised on the view that the chiefs of the army and the ISI in 1990 complied with the directives of the election cell and apparently ignores the possibility that they might have been in control of the election cell, reportedly headed by a retired general of the army, and the then president himself.
Posted by: Fred