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The army’s unusual reticence

Updated Apr 23, 2016 08:43am


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ISLAMABAD: The recent dismissal of senior army officers including two generals, dominated the headlines and the general chatter in Islamabad on Thursday with many people questioning why such a big story was ‘leaked’ without any official confirmation.

The story about the generals and four others being fired for corruption was not confirmed by ISPR officially, the military’s media wing, and this did not go un-noticed.

Retired army officers were also taken aback at the manner in which this news made its way to the media.

Retired Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi says the military “in routine” does not make public information regarding dismissal of its officers or punishment awarded to them

Unexpected leaks

According to retired Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi, former Director General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s spokesman releases information with the approval of Chief of General Staff (CGS), who gives the green signal after the consent of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

Editorial: Army dismissals

He explained that the military “in routine” does not make public information regarding dismissal of its officers or punishment awarded to them by the military courts.

So much so that “even the story of the punishment awarded to a Lt-Gen and Maj-Gen in the NLC case was shocking to me as well as to other serving and retired officers,” said Qureshi.

The NLC scam related to the illegal investment of three to four billion rupees in the stock market which surfaced during the proceedings of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in 2009. An investigation committee finalised its report on the scam in January 2010 and the findings were shared with GHQ in September 2010.

However, last year, in August 2015, the military officially announced that a former quartermaster general, retired Lt-Gen Afzal Muzaffar, was awarded “severe displeasure” under the army act, retired Lt-Gen Khalid Munir Khan was exonerated while retired Major General Khalid Zaheer Akhtar was ‘dismissed from service’ for the scam.

Indeed, apart from a few exceptions where the military authorities announced the award of punishment to officers, most such incidents do not become public.

This is why Qureshi calls the NLC case and Thursday’s‘leak’ “unexpected”.

“The policy of the armed forces is that matters related to the personnel of armed forces are dealt with, and remain within, the institution.”

This is why many such incidents, in which army officers who were held accountable for corruption, the information became public only when the convicted officers brought the matter to the high courts or the apex court.

For example, in 2012, a colonel and three majors were sacked from military service after it emerged that they had accepted kickbacks while inspecting arms purchased by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government for the police in 2010.

The sacked officers are alleged to have accepted Rs11 million from a contractor to give a clean bill of health to weapons, ammunition, bullet-proof jackets and bullet-proof helmets which were then supplied to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police department.

The sacked officers were posted at the Inspectorate of Armament (I of A) of Rawalpindi in 2010 when they were asked to inspect the weapons and other equipment sent by the KPK police department. The latter wanted the weapons tested.

However, the story of their corruption and subsequent dismissal emerged when the former officers – Colonel Iftikhar Ahmed Malik, Major Awais Chaudhry, Major Tabassum Daud and Major Khurram Sheikh – who were sacked by the army on Sept 24, 2012, petitioned the Lahore High Court against their dismissals.

Sometimes it’s news and sometimes it’s not

It appears that in recent years, the military has not followed a clear cut policy; in some exceptional cases the news has been leaked about some convictions or punishments.

For instance, the information about the conviction of the militants who attacked the military’s General Headquarters (GHQ) was confirmed by the military’s spokesman once the defence counsels leaked the news to the media.

The information about the conviction of ex-Brigadier Ali due to his alleged association with banned outfit Hizbut Tahrir (HuT) in 2012 was officially released by the ISPR as was the punishment awarded to Lt-Gen Afzal Muzaffar and Maj-Gen Khalid Zahir Akhtar in the NLC scam.

According to retired Brigadier Wasaf Khan Niazi, former Judge Advocate General (JAG) army, the NLC scam is different from the routine court martial cases.

“The NLC is not a military’s entity as it is managed by the National Logistic Board (NLB) run by the finance ministry, therefore, the ISPR released this information without any hesitation,” he argued.

Chief’s order or court martial

Niazi also pointed out that the military authorities dismissed the officers on administrative grounds and without commencing court martial proceedings against them.

The procedure for removing an officer on administrative ground is comparatively simple, compared to court martial proceedings, he said.

“The authorities under Section 16 of the Pakistan Army Act (PAA), 1952 can dismiss an officer by court martial or on administrative grounds,” he explained.

In a court martial, after the investigation and inquiry, the prosecution submits its case before the court. It then produces evidence and witnesses to prove charges against the accused.

On the other hand, an administrative disposal is simple; the COAS in the light of inquiry recommends dismissal of the accused officers. The action is confirmed by the federal government, he explained. It appears that the dismissals on Thursday were also the result of an administrative measure.

“I have conducted several court martial proceedings and dealt with the removal cases of a number of officers but none of them appeared in the press,” Niazi claimed.

Leaks and playing politics

However, many observers as well as retired military officers agreed that the ‘leaks’ about the six army officers on Thursday were linked to the Panama leaks and aimed at pressuring the government.

Retired Lt-Col Nazar Mohammad said that the news about the firing of six army officers had put the government under pressure, which was earlier reluctant to proceed against those named in the Panama papers.

“I think the army has given a signal to the heads of other state’s pillar to proceed against corrupt elements without any discrimination,” he said.

“It was not easy to remove generals and if the army has done it; now the executive and the judiciary has to reciprocate,” he added.

It is noteworthy that two days before the news of the firings came, the chief of army staff, Raheel Sharif, had called for across the board accountability in a speech he made to troops. Seen as a reference to the government’s delaying tactics in addressing the Panama leaks, his speech was also criticised and questions were asked as to why accountability was only carried out of politicians and not military men.

Two days later, on Thursday, came the leaks about ‘accountability’ within the ranks.

Military sources insisted that the information about the dismissal of the officers was not leaked by the army. They added that the notification about these army officers had also been forwarded to the federal government through the ministry of defence.

“The military had publicly commented on the governance issue in November last year in a press release about a corps commander meeting but it was criticised by politicians and other segments of society. This is why, perhaps, the dismissals were not made public by the army. Someone else did. Had it been released through ISPR, it might have been seen differently,” said an official.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2016


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Comments (21) Closed

khan Apr 23, 2016 09:57am

I think its an internal matter of an institution. they have rights to disclose it or not. Its completely upto them. We as nation is very fond of poking our nose everywhere

Zaid Apr 23, 2016 11:13am

All civilised, sovereign countries have a defence minister handling such queries,in this country the army gives sound bites.

alfatmi Apr 23, 2016 11:14am

I can't understand why people are so concerned about ISPR release etc , why create such a fuss, look at the bright side, Gen Raheel has zero tolerance for corruption & he is proving it via his actions.

Kashmiri Nationalist Apr 23, 2016 11:22am

The Pakistani Armed Forces are the most professional and patriotic organization in Pakistan and I wish them the best of luck as well as pAkistAni people

Syed F. Hussaini Apr 23, 2016 11:33am

@khan The military is NOT an institution. It is a department--just a sub-department of the Department of Defense of the Government of Pakistan! Period!

Syed F. Hussaini Apr 23, 2016 11:41am

Why "leak" when it has the power to "announce"? All commissioned officers are gazetted officers of the Government of Pakistan. Their appointments, commissioning, promotions, dismissals, retirements are to be published in hard-copy in the Gazette of Pakistan.

JP Apr 23, 2016 12:12pm

@khan Why should it be an internal matter? They are tax payer funded.

Junaid Apr 23, 2016 12:44pm

in line with their policy they did not inform formally but to make a precedent for civilian government they leaked it.. makes sense......

Phultru Apr 23, 2016 01:29pm

If a crime committed by a civilian then punishable and if it is a "non-civilian" then in the "greater interest" of country need to hide it. What logic is this??

samunderkeran Apr 23, 2016 02:36pm

@khan It's not a private enterprise, they are working for Govt of Pakistan and we pay tax and they provide us safety, just like all other state apparatus. They are not above the law.

Puzzled Apr 23, 2016 04:15pm

Why should the corrupt not be named publicly? Will that not discourage others and set an example by demonstrating consequences. Also shouldn't such people be getting jail time besides dismissal?

SGH Apr 23, 2016 05:49pm

An official confirmation is in the interest of Pakistan Army, as - it would end the rumors, about the number of officers suspended. - it would send a strong signal to the Army officers to avoid corruption in future, and - this transparency would make the accountability process, initiated by Gen. Raheel Sharif, credible in the eyes of the people of Pakistan.

wshaikh Apr 23, 2016 06:18pm

@khan Any corruption in a state institution should be made public. We must eliminate the menace of corruption form all public and private institutions. Making a corruption case public helps to educate public and it is a good prevention mechanism.

Ali Apr 23, 2016 06:49pm

In Pakistan there is controlled and limited democracy.

Tahir Apr 23, 2016 07:36pm

These corrupt officers have been just removed from job, they have given pension, allowances and medical benefits and have actually not been dismissed, they just returned a few million rupees out of the looted money There should be a central govt servants anti corruption court for both military and civilian govt servants who should conduct all trials so that justice is seen to be happening, nobody can be above the law. Societies perish if such discriminatory justice prevails.

KJ Apr 23, 2016 07:55pm

@Ali "In Pakistan there is controlled and limited democracy."

You either have a democracy or you don't. India is a 'functioning' democracy, though one may question if it is functioning as well as it should; but by and large no one can say that democracy is being defeated in India.

Truth Seeker Apr 23, 2016 08:11pm

We are all missing the reason behind people demanding a formal announcement. This "leak" has led to speculations. People want to know if this media story is true and the grounds these officers have been dismissed on. Was it simply an administrative issue related to their roles or a matter of financial corruption?

Ayub Apr 23, 2016 10:27pm

Any wrong person, wherever, he exists, must be traced and removed.

Pakistani Apr 24, 2016 10:29pm

There is an element in our nation who looses no opportunity to find faults with the Army. It is almost as if they want this last working institution to also fail like the rest of the institutions of the country. Hence they never let go anything they can use to raise some confusion about Army or cast some doubts on its actions.

It is an internal matter of the Army. Case closed. Get on with your own work and do something for Pakistan; instead of questioning those who ARE doing something for Pakistan.

kindrequest Apr 24, 2016 11:33pm

It's not only in the interest of the whole nation but also in Army itself, if it only concentrate on their job, which is to secure border.And at the end of the day this is their job.

Mir Hammal Apr 26, 2016 12:54am

@Syed F. Hussaini a further explanation would be helpful.