ONE of the associations of ex-servicemen highlighted the need for transparency in investigations involving senior military officers following the recent exchange of accusations of corruption by the Sindh Rangers and PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari.
Since Pakistan came into being, we have seen several political governments removed, mostly by the army, on charges of corrupt practices; many politicians have served jail terms for these allegations, whether proved or not.
There is perception of widespread corruption and poor governance in Sindh under the PPP government that needs to be investigated. At the same time the military has launched a series of inquiries in many cases against serving men but their results have never been made public. This has fuelled perceptions that the men in uniform are never punished for their crimes and that slogans of honesty and accountability are meant for politicians and civilians only.
Former senior military officials are concerned about the situation developing after Mr Zardari’s outburst accusing military generals of corruption. These former military officers believe that the army should take the initiative and initiate transparent accountability measures against corrupt officers — and that it should be open to the public.
“Accountability must be across the board, no matter who is accused of corruption,” said retired Lt Gen Hamid Gul, former DG ISI and now a representative of an association of ex-servicemen.
“A transparent and open investigation should be conducted against any military officer involved in corruption, no matter what his rank,” he observed, adding that the exercise would improve the image of the armed forces.
“I am aware that right now inquiries are being conducted against a few senior officers, including the brother of a former top-most officer for his involvement in several contracts. The results of these inquiries should be made public,” he said.
A few years ago, a mega corruption scandal surfaced in the military-run National Logistics Cell (NLC); at least three generals were named for financial mismanagement and corruption, but so far, no result has come out despite the defence authorities’ assurances that the matter would be investigated.
Even earlier, a parliamentary committee debated a suspicious purchase deal of submarines, but this matter was hushed up too without the findings being made public.
More recently, it has been alleged that a brother of a former senior-most general got benefits and contracts through using his influence; no action on this matter has been made public.
“There is a system of accountability within the military and investigation against corruption is a routine matter,” said retired Brig Syed Masud-ul-Hassan, representative of another ex-serviceman society. “But it is high time that the findings and verdicts of corruption cases be made public.
When you convict somebody of corruption in an institution like the army and make it public, it enhances respect for the institution.”
A spokesman of the PPP, Qamar Zaman Kaira, says his party wants accountability across the board.
“Asif Ali Zardari mentioned the wrongdoings of former military generals like Ayub Khan, Zia and Musharraf. We want across-the-board accountability of all institutions, all provinces and everybody,” he said.
Beyond the routine allegations and counter-allegations of corruption, the announcement of inquiries and efforts to hush up the results, there is demand for total parliamentary supervision of military business to enhance transparency.
“The laws dealing with military affairs need to be amended,” said I.A. Rehman, a senior human rights activist and columnist. “Budget allocations and priorities should be discussed and debated in parliament.
There should be parliamentary control over the proceedings. The military has its own accountability system. That is in place but the army laws should be amended to make it more transparent and open.”
“They [the military] can give a reason to conceal information on a specific case if they deem it necessary but they should hold open inquiries in general cases of corruption,” he said.
Practitioners of the law who have been dealing with cases related to the military feel that the fate of an accused person in the military accountability system is in the hands of one individual commander.
“How he treats a person accused of a crime is up to the formation commander,” said Inam-ur-Rahim, an advocate who retired from the army as a colonel.
“He has three authorities: he can declare that no offence has been committed by the accused, he may let him go with a warning, or he can recommend a court martial.
Gen Ayub Khan amended the 1956 constitution to ban the hearing of any case involving military officials in the civilian courts. Then Zulfikar Ali Bhutto amended it further, banning a civilian from even filing an appeal in a civilian court against a decision taken against him by a military court.”
“This took Mr Bhutto’s own life, as when he went to a civilian court against the army chief, Gen Ziaul Haq, his petition was dismissed in accordance with Article 199, which guarantees impunity for the military,” he added.
Military spokesman Major Gen Asim Bajwa was not available for comment.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2015