THE financial scandal at the army-run National Logistics Cell which caused a loss of nearly Rs1.8bn through illegal investments between 2004 and 2008 was back in the news on Saturday. Chairman NAB Fasih Bokhari told a press conference that the three generals implicated in the scam could be court-martialled by the army — if the army’s separate investigation produced evidence of serious wrongdoing. This is simply not good enough. The army’s investigation was announced in November 2010 at a time when it was believed that the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee under the chairmanship of Chaudhry Nisar was about to announce its own findings. November 2010 to July 2012 is long enough to have determined who in the army-run NLC was responsible for the losses suffered by the organisation and what criminal prosecution they should face — there being virtually no doubt that some financial malfeasance was involved.
Are the high-profile targets — now retired generals — the reason for the slow pace of the investigation? Very likely, yes. But it’s not just the army that may be trying to shield several of its own. NAB too seems to drag its feet when it comes to investigating corruption and misdeeds committed by men in uniform — leading to a suspicion that the many men who once served in uniform and now serve at NAB may be protecting their own kind. But then, what of the PAC, which gave the army time to follow through on its own investigation but has not pressed for a quick resolution of the affair (the PAC, though, is admittedly a rudderless committee since the exit of Chaudhry Nisar).
In matters of corruption, the debate can often break down to mindless partisanship. Talk about corruption in the armed forces or the judiciary, and supporters will hit back with endless stories of corruption in the political class. But perhaps therein lies a story worth exploring: while politicians have been given a bad name and hanged — literally in some cases — there is still a lack of genuine public understanding about the extent of corruption and malfeasance in other institutions. What that does is lead to a false choice: corrupt politicians out to squeeze every last drop they can from the system vs noble and patriotic men in other institutions who may be occasionally misguided but have Pakistan’s best interests at heart. So there’s a very real and urgent need to pull back the veil and take on whatever skeletons come tumbling out of hitherto closed closets. The NLC case, then, is a test case: a test for whether or not Pakistan is genuinely moving towards a more level playing field.