LAHORE - Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and “his prime minister” Nawaz Sharif have started raising doubts about the fairness and impartiality of the general election due to be held by the end of July. The two allege that the process will be supervised by a “Khalai Makhlooq” (invisible hands), not the caretaker government to be installed as a result of talks between the government and the opposition.

The Election Commission of Pakistan took a serious notice of the prime minister’s utterances on the subject, but the latter and other ruling party leaders still insist in their private conversations that the PML-N will not get a fair deal.

On the other hand, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar will start hearing today review petitions filed by two former generals against famous Air Marshal Asghar Khan case verdict that had called into question the fairness of the 1990 election because of the alleged use of money by the powers that be. The (late) leader from Abbottabad had sent a letter to then CJP in 1996 alleging that then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, then COAS General Aslam Beg, then DG ISI Lt Gen Asad Durrani and Habib Bank Sindh ex-chief and Mehran Bank owner Younis Habib had distributed Rs140 million to several politicians ahead of the 1990 election to ensure Benazir Bhutto’s defeat.

It was on October 19, 2012, when the apex court issued a 141-page verdict declaring that the 1990 election was rigged. Headed by then CJP Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the court had also ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate the fraudulent election and initiate legal proceedings against the two generals.

The FIA couldn’t complete the task as the PPP government stopped it on the ground that it would not like the investigators drag Mian Nawaz Sharif. (A statement in this regard had been made by then information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira at a news conference)

General Beg and Gen Asad Durrani filed appeals against the apex court’s decision which will be taken up today.

This establishes one thing: nothing has changed in the past three decades. The 1990 election was manipulated and according to the sitting premier the 2018 election will be conducted by invisible forces. Elections held during the intervening period were also not accepted by the parties, especially who were defeated.

This being so, it may rightly be asked as to what did the governments of Mian Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, Gen Musharraf, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi do in their respective tenures to bring an end to the role of the “Khalai Makhlooq?” And, who is to be held responsible if the incumbent prime minister insists that the election to be held at the end of his term will not be fair?

Not everybody remembers that while defending himself before the Supreme Court, Gen Aslam Beg had contended that it was not the ISI but a “political cell” set up under an executive order of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1975 that had allegedly manipulated people’s right to form associations under Article 17 of the Constitution.

He had used the same argument to say that in the interest of the national security a disputed political cell be treated differently and distinctly from the rest of the institution and may also be dealt with separately so as to rid politic process of the country of undesirable, unhealthy and extraneous influence. “The work of ISI is not at all in question or the subject matter of probe or adjudication by this court. The only thing that has to be determined is whether public funds could be used to manipulate people’s will”.

He had also argued that the proceedings in open court are more beneficial and in public interest than the proceedings in camera because such proceedings give rise to suspicions, speculations and mistrusts. Disbursement of money to individuals for politics does not make the issue as sensitive or one pertaining to the national security. “If at any stage of the proceedings it is found that any issue relating to defence of the country or working of the ISI in its national security pursuits comes under question that specific situation may be dealt with differently otherwise the request for holding camera proceeding is arbitrary desire which cannot be countenanced”.