It could be wished away as too little too late. But it is undeniable that the recent order of the Pakistan supreme court in what has come to be known as the Mehrangate scandal is momentous, especially coming months before a democratically-elected government is about to complete its full term for the first time. The short order of the court holds a former army chief and former director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence responsible for rigging the 1990 elections in collusion with the presidentís office. Money was freely disbursed among a cluster of politicians and political parties during the time to prevent the Pakistan Peopleís Party from coming to power. Apart from implicating top State institutions in the dastardly deed, which can easily be read as an anti-State activity, the court verdict puts in black and white what is the worst-kept State secret ó the role of the army in negating the working of genuine democracy in Pakistan. The supreme court has pointedly mentioned that the army and military intelligence have no role in politics and they cannot put together governments or take them apart. In answer to this, the army has promptly reminded the court that the political cell of the ISI was disbanded five years ago. The army obviously wants matters to be left at the level of castigation and even punishment of specific individuals. The problem is that Pakistan would gain nothing if matters actually ended there.
The army in Pakistan has always had an enormous influence on deciding the political destiny of the nation because it is seen as the only true guarantor of the nationís interests. It retains this influence irrespective of the existence or disbandment of its political cells. The supreme court has merely reminded the army of the role ascribed to it by the constitution. It has not unsettled the assumptions that allow the army to wield undemocratic power. For that the court will need the assistance of the civilian establishment and its determination to prove itself worthy of the public confidence reposed in it. The army has got away with its machinations precisely because politicians have been such faithful partners in the crime. The PPP government will prolong this nexus if it uses the court verdict to hound its rivals in the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which, once a party to the armyís designs, has distanced itself from the military.