Mehrangate volcano: 'Asghar Khan moment'

Surely, this is an "Asghar Khan moment" because the ongoing Supreme Court proceedings are centred on the petition filed by him about two decades ago.

Long withheld truths about the working of our Establishment are unfolding in all their dirty dimensions.

But what constitutes the Establishment? In Pakistan's context, it is invariably a group or class of people having institutional authority within the Pakistani society, especially those who control the civil service, the government, the armed forces, and the religious groups and parties: usually identified with a conservative outlook.

One would be only profoundly naïve to deduce that the then-Chairman of Senate of Pakistan, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, was the successor of General Ziaul Haq after the latter died in a C-130 plane crash in Bahawalpur in 1988.

Although, the former became the President of Pakistan, the man who was calling the shots had not ensconced himself in the Presidency in Islamabad but he was still within the four walls of the army headquarters situated in Rawalpindi.

The then army chief, General Aslam Beg, one of the principal characters of the Mehrangate scandal, had allegedly conceived and planned the scheme only to be executed through the most efficient executive arm of the executive: the ISI.

The job of disbursement of money among politicians with a view to depriving the PPP of a victory in the 1990 general election was efficiently carried out by the country's premier intelligence outfit.

The achievement of this "profound" task effected with a lot of finesse and care added a new feather to ISI's cap already having too many feathers thanks to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s.

Since then, both the army and the ISI had taken upon themselves the responsibility of determining what constitutes the national interest.

Working in tandem, both the institutions identified the country's goals and ambitions, whether military or economic.

As considerable disagreement exists in the country over what is or is not in "the national interest," these two institutions or power groups of the Establishment often invoke "the national interests" to justify isolationist and pacifistic policies as to justify interventionist or war-like policies.

Arguably, Kargil misadventure is a case in point.

Since the principal accused in this case is the Inter-Service Intelligence, headed by an appointee of the Chief Executive, and there is its Political Wing established by a civilian prime minister - it would be of interest to the general public why the loot sale made through a private bank remained unexplored for so long.

And why the 'misdeed' of the ISI has come under sharper focus.

Why the simmering Mehrangate volcano has burst with full fury on the national scene now? But the public's right to know the truth in the alleged distribution of public money, a whopping Rs 400 million, by the ISI to ensure the PPP won't come back to the power corridors, should override all other considerations.

Even when the recipients of secret funds vehemently reject the allegations and may turn around to say the whole exercise is aimed at defaming them and undercutting their popularity the task is of finding the whole truth is very much achievable.

But the details spelled out by Younus Habib certainly lift one more layer from this sordid drama.

True, no person with an iota of intelligence would give receipts of receiving the ISI funds and that he would deny the charge with full force.

But the sources of these funds do keep record as a bank will invariably do.

Then, it is also quite plausible that somewhere in the vaults of the ISI there is the record of actual recipients and as to what channel was employed for delivering money to them.

So, the case is not likely to be decided anytime soon, but it is our sanguine expectation that the apex court would go to the bottom of the Mehrangate scam, the guilty would be identified, agencies would be asked to recognise certain 'redlines' and there would be a clear and an unambiguous definition of 'the national interest'.

The greater emphasis of apex court's proceedings should be aimed at contributing to efforts towards the setting up of a 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' in sharp contrast to Nuremberg Trials and other de-Nazification measures.

Once established through a legislative act, the commission may be empowered to grant amnesty to a person or persons as long as there is full disclosure by the person seeking amnesty.

Indeed, it is a glorious moment of our national history.

Chief Justice of Pakistan has promised to strengthen the institutions, a mission to which the apex court's verdict on the Asghar Khan petition would be a giant step.

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