On April 19, 2016, during his visit to the Signal Regimental Centre in Kohat, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif said: The “ongoing war against terrorism and extremism being fought with the backing of entire nation cannot bring enduring peace and stability unless the menace of corruption is not uprooted. Therefore, across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan.” The catchphrase of “backing of the entire nation” also prompted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to declare in his address to the nation on April 22 that he was only answerable to the masses. In this way, both personalities claimed to have drawn their strength from the masses. With that the strains in civil-military relations are palpable, the initiative of which rested with General Raheel Sharif.
Interestingly, the statement of General Sharif also indicates that the ongoing war on terror cannot proceed further unless “corruption is not uprooted,” and the reason implied for the same is that corruption beckons terrorism. This relationship is a new development because, in the past, terrorism was linked to obscurantism and extremism, as former COAS General Pervez Musharraf used to say. Now terrorism has been related to corruption. It is known that the army launched the Zarb-e-Azb operation in North Waziristan in June 2014; however, it is not known what clues the army obtained to establish the relationship between terrorism it was fighting and corruption prevailing elsewhere in the country. One may argue that corruption may facilitate terrorism, but not many may argue that corruption causes terrorism. Facilitation is quite removed from causation. Any indirect link does not substitute for a direct link.
It was in the knowledge of civilians, as published in several news items, that smuggling had been taking place across the Pakistan-Iran border in Balochistan for decades, and the officials of the Frontier Corps (FC) were involved in the act. Lieutenant General Ubaidullah Khan Khattak as the Inspector General (IG) FC might not be the first one to indulge in corruption; similarly, his successor, Major General Ejaz Shahid, automatically got roped in because the malpractice was a bequeathed norm. However, if the two army officers (Colonel Shakeel and Major Yasir) had not rammed a smuggled, (non-custom paid) costly Ferrari car (owned by a son of General Shahid) into a truck on the highway in November 2014, and lost their lives consequently, corruption done by the FC officials would not have surfaced. The vicious cycle of smuggling and the sharing of ill-gotten money would have continued uninterrupted. In fact, the disclosure was more accidental than planned by any intelligence agency, all of which are otherwise fully functional in Balochistan. The chance-dependent revelation of corruption rampant in certain areas of army defies the concept of it being a disciplined institution. Certainly, one time application of accountability is not a long-term solution, and the cleansing of one area of army does not mean the purging of corruption of the entire army, despite the fact that the action was long overdue. There is a need for more introspection than before.
No one has said that “across the board accountability” that General Sharif mentioned is unnecessary. However, this catchword opens another outlook for mulling over. In fact, the slogan of taking anti-corruption measures or doing accountability is not new to the ears of Pakistanis. To eclipse the failure of the Kargil Operation when General Musharraf aired the refrain of accountability as a ruse to impose the martial law in October 1999, a club of sycophants came to life chanting the mantra of accountability. The club held seminars, delivered speeches, took out marches and staged rallies to tout accountability. To befool the masses further and justify his anti-constitutional step, in November 1999, General Musharraf formed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which he soon used to construct a political alliance in his favour to legitimise the martial law through the 17th Constitutional Amendment passed in December 2003. After that the slogan of accountability lost its relevance and was petered out. In this way, in the recent past, the slogan of accountability served the cause of its originators and cabals. Currently, as has been reported in the media, General Musharraf is holding bank accounts (at least two of them are joint accounts with his wife) having more than 200 million rupees in Abu Dhabi and the western countries of the world, besides his immovable property, all out of the ambit of across the board accountability.
Corruption is now more of a trite than an effective reason for a COAS to overstep the prescribed constitutional limits, even by showing discontentment publicly. The memory serves the purpose of recalling that in the early 1990s the officers of the prime intelligence agency, ISI, remained involved in promoting corruption amongst politicians by bribing them to join one political coalition and not another one. For the purpose, the ISI officials distributed, from the national exchequer, more than 70 million rupees (some say the amount was 140 million rupees) amongst select politicians, without imposing any compulsion on the recipients not to transfer the ‘dirty money’ abroad through any offshore company. In October 2012, the Supreme Court issued a short order on a 16-year-old case — the Asghar Khan petition — and stated that the former DG ISI, General Assad Durrani, the then army chief, Mirza Aslam Beg, and the then president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan were involved in rigging the 1990 general elections. Politicians did not induce the ISI to dish out the money, though politicians are still derided for accepting the bribe. In fact, the ISI officials did that blatantly while staying out of the realm of across the board accountability.
Establishing a link between terrorism and corruption and then demanding across the board accountability publicly reek of no less than political ambitions and political consequences at the time when government is facing the crisis of the Panama leaks. A club of sycophants has again sprung into action to serve its masters.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at email@example.com