ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court on Thursday questioned whether the funds being spent by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) are subject to audit under Article 169 of the constitution.

A three-member bench was hearing a suo moto about the alleged misuse of Rs400 million IB funds by the Pakistan Peoples Party government to topple the Punjab provincial government in 2008-9.

“We only want that it (agencies’ funds) channelised and (we want to) make them (secret services) answerable as it will enhance our security,” said Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, while heading the bench.

In response to the court notice, former IB DG Col (r) Iqbal Niazi denied the content of Asad Kharral’s plea and the deal disclosed in it. Asad Kharal in his CMA 4671/2012 in H.R.C.19/1996 had submitted in the Supreme Court that the IB had provided Rs3 million to Nazir Naji, a journalist who at that time was not only a columnist of an Urdu newspaper but he also remained a government servant in his capacity as chairman of Pakistan Academy of Letters from 3-4-1997 to 22-10-1999.

Col Iqbal, however, stated that there was a different story, which he could not divulge in the open court and if an opportunity is given then he will explain that in-camera. Major Farid Jadoon, who is still serving in IB, told that disbursement of money is not in his purview. He also requested for in-camera briefing. The court on their requests asked them to submit their statement on the next date of hearing (September 13) in sealed envelope.

Later during the proceeding, the chief justice also inquired from Attorney General (AG) Munir A Malik whether the IB is governed under some statute like that of Frontier Constabulary, police and Rangers etc. He said in Asghar Khan case the court was told that Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was working under the army. The attorney general to refine his submission on the issue of audit and laws governing the IB requested the court to give him time so he could get instructions from the federation.

The chief justice said the court did not desire that the agencies disclose their accounts, but it wanted them to at least maintain the ledgers. He said the command of the constitution has to be fulfilled and no one should have problem in following it.

Justice Jawwad S Khawaja said: “If we will deviate from the constitution then problems will start (emerging).” Justice Azmat Saeed Sheikh remarked: “There should be no compromise on security of the country.”The attorney general furnishing the financial adviser’s reply, in a sealed envelope, informed the court that Rs400 million were withdrawn in June 2008. But he said that contrary to the allegations made by Asad Kharral in his news story about use of the money for toppling the Punjab government, the funds were used for four operations of the agency. The AG said the amount was used for intelligence gathering in Fata, to control anti-terrorist activities in Karachi and the law and order in Balochistan.

Asad Kharral, a journalist of an English daily, last year had published a story in which he claimed that Rs400 million IB funds were used during the tenure of Pakistan Peoples Party government to topple the Punjab provincial government in 2008-09. The chief justice questioned why the intelligence agencies accounts are not audited. The AG argued that there were some issues that are not subject to audit like the strategic assets. Justice Jawwad said, “They are not asking for the disclosure of the details, but the funds have to be audited.”

The chief justice asked, “Were those funds not accounted for? Justice Jawwad said there was difference between secrecy and the audit. “Secrecy at some philosophical level is exceptional and the audit does not undermine the secrecy... Many countries have tackled this issue properly,” he said. He said there is need of clarity about the authority of the Auditor General of Pakistan.

He further said if the government claims secrecy on the intelligence agencies funds then it should get a law passed by the legislature for it. Munir argued that Article 169 of the constitution should be read with Article 170. He said: “If Article 169 is divorced or read separately then everything is auditable by the AGP.