'Will not let Asghar Khan's efforts go to waste': SC decides against closing 2012 case

The Supreme Court, a day after the family of late Air Marshal Asghar Khan opposed the closure of a case related to financial scams of the 1990s, summoned the defence secretary to apprise it of the status of cases against army officers allegedly involved in the case.

The apex court had notified Khan’s heirs after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) last month suggested that the case relating to the implementation of the 2012 verdict be closed since the authorities did not have enough evidence to launch a criminal prosecution against the individuals named in the judgement of the apex court.

In 1996, Asghar Khan had filed a human rights petition in the SC, accusing the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of doling out money to a group of politicians in the 1990s.

The case was initiated by the air marshal after Benazir Bhutto’s interior minister, retired general Naseerullah Babar, had claimed in the National Assembly in 1994 that the ISI had disbursed funds to “purchase” the loyalty of politicians and public figures so as to manipulate the 1990 elections, form the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), and bring about the defeat of the PPP.

Sixteen years after the petition was filed, the SC in its judgement — penned by then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry — ruled that the 1990 general elections had been polluted by dishing out Rs140m to a particular group of politicians only to deprive the people of being represented by their chosen representatives.

According to the FIA report, 18 politicians in their statements submitted in the SC denied receiving the funds to allegedly manipulate the 1990 polls.

The agency has contended that the statements of witnesses recorded in the case so far had gaps and did not correlate with each other. Moreover, the investigation agency has also remained unsuccessful in securing financial records from the relevant banks since the matter is 24 years old.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, while hearing the case today, questioned how the court could just dismiss its decision. “We will get further investigation done,” he asserted, adding that Salman Akram Raja would assist the court.

“How can this case proceed?” he asked. “A verdict has already been announced, but look what’s happening now, when it is time for implementation.”

Justice Nisar recalled that it had been suggested “that some individuals should be separated from the case”.

“That should not happen,” Raja said. “A man has said ‘I have distributed the money’,” he pointed out.

“We will not let Asghar Khan’s efforts go to waste,” Justice Nisar asserted. “The Asghar Khan family was not taken into confidence over the suggestion that the case be closed. If the FIA lacked the authority, it could have gotten the investigation done by another institution,” the chief justice added.

“When the verdict was announced, I met then-chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry,” the top judge recounted. “I said to Chaudhry that he had announced such a massive verdict that if the court now does nothing more, even that was enough.”

“The Asghar Khan and Asia Bibi case verdicts are historical,” Raja commented.

“A military court is trying the army officers who were involved. There is a separate trial against civilians,” the chief justice said. “The cabinet had said that a military court would try them (army officers). How can we reach a final conclusion after separate investigations?” he wondered.

“We don’t know what action the military has taken so far, why not summon a report from them too?” he suggested.

“Don’t get the impression that the military is beyond the jurisdiction of this court,” Justice Nisar said. “As the chief justice, I would like to tell them that all this is within our jurisdiction.”

“Why don’t we summon the defence secretary?” he suggested.

The court in today’s hearing decided that it was not satisfied with the conclusions reached by the FIA and asked the agency to submit a response to Khan’s family’s joint reply.

The SC also ordered that a notice be sent to the defence secretary and asked him to apprise the court on which army officer’s cases were sent to military courts and what progress had been made in the investigation. The court ordered the reply to be submitted in a week and adjourned the case until Jan 25.