LAHORE - There is a saying: “Justice delayed is justice denied”. This means that even a just decision given after unnecessary delay is like denying justice to the aggrieved.

But the same cannot be said of the Friday short order of the Supreme Court, delivered after some 16 years of the filing of the petition. The three-judge-bench order has “stripped naked” both the ‘Khakis and the Muftis’ for their illegal acts during the 1990 elections, and it appears to be a warning shot for President Zardari, who is using the Presidency for political activities of his party. He was not directly a party to the case, but the proceedings took such a turn that he seems to have become an unintended target.

The order has also exploded the myth of the victory of the multi-party Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) against the PPP in those elections.

So close to the fresh elections, the order will be a morale booster for the PPP and a demoralizer for the PML and others. It will lead to new controversies in a country which abounds with problems.

After the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Gen Zia could not afford to let the PPP return to power because of the likely consequences for him. He delayed the elections as much as he could, and when he decided to give the people a choice to elect their representatives in 1985, he held party-less elections, which were boycotted by then opposition alliance Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, of which the PPP was the biggest component. The PPP, subsequently, realised that it was the biggest blunder to have stayed out of the electoral process. There were many in the establishment who were opposed to the PPP and wanted to keep it out of power at all costs.

Later, despite the fact that the PPP had won some 92 NA seats, compared to 50 plus of the PML in the 1988 elections, then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan was reluctant to invite Benazir Bhutto to form government. Several days after the announcement of results, the president invited Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan for consultations. The same day Benazir Bhutto wanted to meet the veteran leader at her Islamabad residence. When the Nawabzada told her about the flight by which he was going to the federal capital, she sent Aitzaz Ahsan to the airport to receive him.

It was just a coincidence that the Nawabzada’s flight got delayed and when he landed at the Islamabad airport, it was time for a meeting with the president. So he decided to meet the president first, telling Aitzaz that he would see the PPP chairperson once his meeting at the Presidency was over. This made the PPP leader believe that the Nawabzada was also opposed to her party forming the government.

But the veteran leader told this correspondent subsequently that he had told Ghulam Ishaq Khan that since the PPP had won more seats, Benazir had the right to form government. He advised the then president to extend the PPP leader an invitation at the earliest.

The purpose of recalling this episode is to make clear the kind of situation the PPP was facing at the time.

Benazir Bhutto was accepted as prime minister – but only reluctantly. She had to face a no-trust motion only about a year after coming to power, which was defeated mainly because of the vested interests of some leaders who did not like Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi to succeed Benazir.

In 1990, the president dismissed the Benazir government and announced fresh elections. The Supreme Court’s Friday order exposes ‘fairness’ of those elections.

The order says: “Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the then president of Pakistan, General (R) Aslam Beg and General (R) Asad Durrani acted in violation of the Constitution by facilitating a group of politicians and political parties, etc., to ensure their success against the rival candidates in the general election of 1990, for which they secured funds from Mr. Younas Habib. Their acts have brought a bad name to Pakistan and its Armed Forces as well as secret agencies in the eyes of the nation, therefore, notwithstanding that they may have retired from service, the Federal Government shall take necessary steps under the Constitution and Law against them”.

The parties in the IJI included mainly the PML, the National People’s Party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, the JUI and the ANP.

The PPP sat on opposition benches after these polls.

About the role of the intelligence agencies, the apex court said: “The Armed Forces, in discharge of their functions, seek intelligence and support from ISI, MI, etc., and on account of security threats to the country on its frontiers or to control internal situations in aid of civil power when called upon to do so. However, ISI, MI or any other Agency like IB have no role to play in the political affairs of the country such as formation or destabilisation of government, or interfere in the holding of honest, free and fair elections by the Election Commission of Pakistan. Involvement of the officers/members of secret agencies i.e. ISI, MI, IB, etc. in unlawful activities, individually or collectively calls for strict action being, violative of oath of their offices, and if involved, they are liable to be dealt with under the Constitution and the law”.

Although Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf says the SC verdict will be implemented in letter and spirit, it will be a challenging task to bring the ‘accused’ to justice and recover money from the recipients. And since the impartiality of the FIA is also questionable in the eyes of the opposition parties, it’s not clear if they would accept the investigations and findings of this agency.

It is also difficult to say whether the ruling coalition will be able to initiate action against the former army chief and the ex-head of an intelligence agency. And if it dares go ahead, will the armed forces like such senior officers brought to justice.

The persons, who have been affected by the SC order, are likely to seek legal remedies to be able to rebuild their public image.

The order has a clear message even for President Zardari. Paragraph 4 says: “The President of Pakistan, Chief of Army Staff, DG ISI or their subordinates certainly are not supposed to create an Election Cell or to support a political party/group of political parties, because if they do so, the citizens would fail to elect their representatives in an honest, fair and free process of election, and their actions would negate the constitutional mandate on the subject”.

This clearly says that the president cannot support a political party or a group of political parties.

But President Zardari is co-chairman of his party and holds party meetings at the Presidency.

Some 18 months ago, the Lahore High Court had hoped that the president would quit one office and also would not use the Presidency for political activities. The order has not been implemented so far, because of which a contempt of court petition has been moved before the LHC.

And now that the apex court has said that the president is not supposed to support any political party, the LHC will have an added justification to take serious notice of the violation.