South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Across-the-board accountability
Mohammad Jamil

According to liberal democrats in Pakistan, the establishment means only the military, and during discourse they use the term ‘sacred cows’ for the military’s higher echelons.

In his book titled The establishment And How They Get Away With It, Owen Jones, a British columnist, author, commentator and political activist from a democratic-socialist perspective, wrote: “The establishment includes politicians who make laws, media barons who set the terms of debate, businesses and financiers who run the economy, police forces that enforce a law that is rigged in favour of the powerful.” In other words, the political, social and business elite has a stranglehold on a country. But, according to liberal democrats in Pakistan, the establishment means only the military, and during discourse they use the term ‘sacred cows’ for the military’s higher echelons. Last week, an accountability court in Lahore extended physical remand of Hammad Arshad, the prime accused who owns Globaco. The owner of Elysium Holdings, Captain (retd) Kamran Kayani, the younger brother of the former army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, is accused of involvement in the scam.

Fingers are being pointed towards the former army chief, Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, by some commentators who say that he should have taken action against those involved in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) scam. He has to explain his position. Kamran Kayani is reportedly abroad these days, and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) suggests that Pakistan should seek Interpol’s help to bring him back to Pakistan. Hammad Arshad’s company, Globaco, had signed an agreement with DHA in November 2009 to develop DHA City on a land measuring 25,000 kanals. According to DHA, he failed to acquire the land, issued fake allotment letters and collected around Rs 16 billion from the public. “How much share Kamran Kayani got from Globaco is also being investigated,” the source said, adding that Globaco had also engaged Elysium Holdings in the purchase of the land. The real picture will emerge after investigations, which must be done in a transparent manner.

However, NAB should focus on the case and if they are proved guilty severest punishment should be awarded to them. However, the media trial of DHA Lahore should stop, as thousands of its members, including the widows of martyrs, will further suffer. Some journalists and analysts opine that the military should neither get involved in forming a housing society for its personnel nor should the Fauji Foundation enter into any business even for the welfare of its retired personnel. The question is: if government servants, engineers and employees of other government departments are allowed to form housing societies, why should military personnel be denied that privilege? Reportedly, DHA Lahore did not file a case against Captain Kamran Kayani when Ashfaq Pervez Kayani was army chief. Reportedly, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Raheel Sharif wanted the investigation to be expedited and concluded, hence DHA followed up the case and NAB went into action.

It has been reported that the army’s own investigation is far ahead that of NAB’s, and also more incriminating. Apart from this case, the military last year carried out its own internal cleansing. Although investigations had been completed after the retired generals were reinstated in order to court martial them, it was in August 2015 that two retired army generals and a civilian officer of the National Logistics Cell (NLC) were sentenced by an army court for violating NLC rules and regulations that caused financial losses to the organisation. In the light of the findings of the inquiry committee formed to probe irregularities with regards to the investments made by the NLC in the stock market after borrowing money from banks, two accused retired generals were awarded punishments under the Pakistan Army Act. In August 2015, a military court punished senior army officers who incurred huge financial losses to the public exchequer.

NAB has not taken action despite the Public Accounts Committee and parliament’s strong recommendations to the effect. Only after investigation by the military were they court-martialed. According to the verdict, Major General (retd) Khalid Zaheer was dismissed from service, which means forfeiture of rank, decorations, medals, honours, awards, seizure of pension, recovery of personal gains, cancellation of service benefits and all other allied facilities. Lieutenant General (retd) Afzal Muzaffar was awarded severe displeasure (recordable) i.e. violation of procedures but no personal gains. According to a report, Colonel (retd) Inamur Rahim has filed an appeal in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on behalf of Major Genral (retd) Khalid Zaheer against the verdict by the military court. On the civil side, scandals regarding corruption, misappropriation, plundering of billions from banks and other federal, provincial and semi-government departments abound but no high profile case has been decided.

In 1996, Transparency International declared Pakistan the second-most corrupt country in the world where corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, black marketers, smugglers, tax evaders and the drug mafia were ‘rewarded’ through general amnesty schemes or through opportunities to whiten their black money. On January 1, 2016, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif launched a Voluntary Tax Compliance Scheme for registration of non-filer traders. The scheme allows non-taxpayers to legalise their black money by paying a nominal one percent tax. One would not find such an example of rewarding tax evaders and those having plundered the national exchequer. The effort of the ruling elite to hinder the accountability process is also obvious from the recent bill passed by the Sindh government to withdraw cases from the courts, including anti-terror courts, at any stage of the case. There is a perception that this is being done to save the corrupt and criminals.

Last week, NAB arrested two retired military officers and a civilian officer as the main accused in connection with the DHA Islamabad farmhouse project scam amounting to Rs 500 million, according to a press release issued by the accountability watchdog on Thursday. By holding impartial investigations, they should be subjected to trial and if proven guilty should be awarded severest punishments because they have tarnished the image of the military. It appears that civil and military leaderships are on the same page so far as corruption is concerned. Due to a paradigm shift in the military establishment’s policy of showing zero tolerance to corruption, and with a free media and independent judiciary, all pillars of the state and institutions are under the people’s scrutiny but they would like to see across-the-board accountability.