As the country is heading for another general election on July 25, 2018, we are looking in to the role played by the institutions to safeguard democracy and supporting the will and welfare of the people of Pakistan. A special column by Dr Sakariya Kareem.
The Generals of Pakistan have not only been looting the people of Pakistan but have been brazenly manipulating the very foundation of democratic elections over the years by browbeating political leaders, bribing them and others, and raising the bogey of `Islamic takeover`. The most stunning case in the recent times was the case and the judgement delivered in the petition filed by late Air Marshal Asghar Khan in 1996. The former Pakistan Air Force officer proved beyond any doubt how the Pakistan Army and its intelligence wing, ISI, have been milking the country of its resources and manipulating politicians to fix elections.
The Air Marshal’s case was that funds worth Rs 140 million were distributed by Pakistan Army and ISI to various Generals and politicians to fix the elections–to be more precise to ensure that Benazir Bhutto, who was then the Prime Minister, loses the elections. The Generals were not at all happy with a woman being the Prime Minister and that too from the mainstream Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which had been at loggerheads with the army for years. They wanted to install a more malleable premier and they had found a suitable candidate in Nawaz Sharif. Sharif, who deposed as a Prime Minister early this year on corruption charges, was one of the recipients of the slush money.
The Asghar Khan case may be a case which got widely reported but there have been countless other known instances where the Generals were found to have either amassed assets disproportionate to their income or bribed politicians, journalists and businessmen to achieve their nefarious objectives of controlling the country. In 2013, for instance, the government, on the orders of the Supreme Court, had released a list of journalists who had benefited from the `secret fund`. A well-known journalist, however, held that there were at least 174 others who had benefited from the slush fund to the tune of 600,000 pounds.
The story of several Generals stashing away millions in secret accounts abroad is not a secret either. General Pervez Musharraf, who boasted of being an upright officer, fled the country under pressure from his own army and the people to a plush apartment in London which he had bought at the expense of public exchequer while he was in the saddle. Later it was revealed that he had stashed away several hundred millions in offshore accounts besides owning big parcels of real estate in Pakistan. His successor, General Ashfaq Kayani, another self-proclaimed messiah, allowed his brother to run fake drug companies and real estate firms which were under legal dispute for non-payment, cheating and fraud. Kayani is known to operate a few off-shore accounts. Asghar Khan’s petition directly accused two well-known Generals, Aslam Beg, a former Chief of Army Staff, and Assad Durrani, a former DG of ISI, of diverting public funds to fix elections and in the process allowing several politicians, Generals and journalists to quietly earn a tidy sum on the side.
These are not the only Generals who have been enjoying the immunity offered to the army in matters of corruption. Early this year, the National Accountability Bureau filed a case of corruption against a former ISI chief, a retired Major General and several Brigadiers of diverting public land and money for golf and real estate. In 2014, a Ferrari sports car crash led to the uncovering of a massive corruption scandal in which several officers, including two generals, were sacked. The car was bought by a Major General for his son for $400,000, not a small amount even for a serving Major General of Pakistan Army.
According to Arif Jamal, one of the few journalists who had exposed the link between extremist groups and the army years ago, the corruption in the Pakistani military was as rampant as any other state institution. Talking to a news media, he said: “The army is involved in the smuggling of oil and narcotics through the borders of the western Balochistan province. The military also makes money through its checkpoints in the restive province. All drivers have to bribe the officers to pass through these posts. These are just a few examples.”
The Asghar Khan case, now back in the news because of a Supreme Court directive for action taken, is also a telling reminder of how the Generals do not really bother about laws of the land. The judgement in the case was delivered in 2012 but six years down the line, there is no sign of the directives and indictment being taken seriously by the army or the government.
The judgement was severe in its indictment of the army but the Generals have so far chosen to look the other way, so brazenly shameless have they all become. In any other country, the indicted Generals should have been put on trial and in all probability punished. But not in Pakistan even after its highest court of law held that bribes doled out by the Generals had polluted the elections and deprived the people of their right to be represented by the people chosen by them. The court said the `military rule was against the dignity, honour and glory of the nation achieved after sacrifices. It is against the dignity and honour of each and every soldier of the armed forces of Pakistan, who is oath-bound to bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution`.
Even after such an indictment, the Generals brazened it out by stonewalling any, if at all, attempt to implement the apex court order. This is how the Generals have behaved. In the case of General Musharraf, who faces multiple charges of conspiracy, treason and murder, was allowed to travel abroad for treatment even though he was hale and hearty–the army somehow wanted the retired General out of the country to contain the damage his cases was bringing on the army as a whole. But now with the Supreme Court taking a renewed interest in the Asghar Khan case, it is to be seen how long and what way would the Generals find an escape route.