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The army’s unusual reticence

Updated Apr 23, 2016 08:43am

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