Islamabad: The Pakistan Supreme Court`s ruling holding two former generals responsible for rigging the 1990 general election could change the course of the country`s politics and affect President Asif Ali Zardari`s ability to engage in active politics, the media said Saturday.
The verdict handed down by a bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in a 16-year-old case against the funding of politicians by intelligence agencies "may change the course of the country`s political history" though it was unclear whether action would be taken against the general under civilian or military laws, the influential Dawn newspaper reported.
The verdict could also mark "the end of political activities in the presidency forever", the Dawn reported.
The ruling has made it impossible for Zardari to "continue as co-chairman of the Pakistan People`s Party or carry on his political activities", The News reported.
Zardari`s refusal to stop such activities may lead to action against him under the Constitution and the law, it added.
The apex court yesterday directed the government to take legal action against former army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and former Inter-Services Intelligence chief Asad Durrani for their role in paying millions of rupees to politicians to rig the 1990 polls.
It said the funds were distributed as part of a conspiracy hatched by an "election cell" in the presidency created by late President Ghulam Ishaq Khan.
The court further directed that all political or election cells in the presidency or intelligence agencies should be "abolished immediately".
It also called on authorities to recover all the funds paid out by the generals.
Shortly after the court gave its ruling, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said his government would conduct a transparent and impartial probe to identify those who had received funds so action could be taken against them.
He said action would be taken against the generals under the Constitution and the law after consulting legal experts.
News of the court`s ruling, which ended a saga that began in 1996 when former air force chief Asghar Khan filed a petition in the Supreme Court, dominated the front pages of newspapers.
"The saga ends: Exposed" read the headline in The Express Tribune.
Salman Akram Raja, the counsel for Asghar Khan, contended that the court`s ruling meant invoking Article 6 of the Constitution so that the generals and other accused could be tried for high treason.
However, chief military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said it would be "too early to react" without waiting for the court`s detailed judgment.
Bajwa dispelled a perception that any political cell had ever existed in the ISI and said the actions of the two generals were "acts of individuals".
Two unnamed senior security officials told The Express Tribune that the army endorsed the Supreme Court`s judgment and that the military should not interfere in politics.
The officials expressed their regret for the generals "overstepping their authority by interfering" in politics and said the current military leadership is performing its functions strictly in line with the Constitution.
"During the last four-and-a-half years, there were occasions when the army could have overthrown the civilian government, but it did not do so," said one official, citing a clearly defined policy that the current military leadership will not seek any direct or indirect intervention.
In its short order, the apex court said the ISI, Military Intelligence or any other agency "have no role to play in the political affairs of the country such as formation or destabilisation of government" or interfering in the holding of honest, free and fair elections.
Involvement of officials of intelligence agencies in "unlawful activities" calls for strict action under the Constitution and the law, it added.
The Dawn, in its editorial, said yesterday`s verdict marked "an important day in Pakistan’s political history" as the "bald truth as stated by the Supreme Court is an essential part of turning the page on Pakistan?s undemocratic history once and for all".
"The more complicated part will be to break the nexus between the security establishment and parts of the civilian political spectrum. For the ugly truth is that whenever the army has sought to manipulate the democratic process, it has found willing partners on the civilian side," the editorial said.