ISLAMABAD, Dec 5 The much-trumpeted accountability process started by former President Pervez Musharraf with a stated aim to rid the country of corrupt politicians and businesses became victim of the military ruler's own doings when, in order to prolong his stay in power, he repeatedly intervened in the last years of his rule to prevent action against some leading politicians and political families, including not only his supporters and allies like the Chaudhrys of Gujrat but also major opposition families like the Sharifs and Bhuttos.
As if this were not enough, both General Musharraf and his handpicked prime minister Shaukat Aziz often stood in the way of anti-corruption proceedings against some highly controversial businessmen and big businesses on the excuse that such actions could discourage “economic progress”.
These revelations have been made by a highly respected retired army general and former head of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) who was unceremoniously removed from his position more than two years ago, but has now decided to speak his heart out on the expiry of the period that prevented him from discussing service matters.
Lt.-Gen (retd) Shahid Aziz who, after having served as Chief of General Staff (CGS) and Corps Commdander under Gen Musharraf, was appointed Chairman of NAB, believes had he and the accountability bureau been given an opportunity to proceed against corrupt politicians and their cronies, the future of the country would have been secured.
Gen (retd) Aziz, who now lives outside Islamabad on his farm in the foothills of Murree, agreed to speak to Dawn as he believes the truth needs to be told about the manner in which the entire anti-corruption process was sacrificed to expediency.
He said that initially he resisted pressure to hand over the lists of politicians being probed by the Nab for political use in the 2007 elections, but later a standing committee of the parliament ordered Nab to part with the lists. When he again showed reluctance, Shahid Aziz added, Lt-Gen Hamid Javed tried to convince him not to disobey the parliamentary committee.
The former Nab chief's response was that he could not hand over the lists to any forum or a government institution unless the investigations reached final stage, except to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Instead, he issued an order that investigations against all politicians had been stopped for four months of electioneering and would restart after the elections. He said he was appointed as Nab chairman with a pre-condition that he would not open old cases against politicians and other prominent people and was pressured into formally closing down cases against politicians supporting General Musharraf.
The seven-point agenda soon turned into a one-point agenda of strengthening the economy even if it meant ignoring or shelving corruption cases by holders of public offices or their cronies.
In an interview with Dawn, the retired general mentioned a number of big names - Benazir Bhutto, Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Faisal Saleh Hayat, Malik Riaz Hussain of Bahria Town, oil companies, sugar millers and many others - whose cases could not be taken to the logical end because of pressure coming directly from General Musharraf and his office.
And, finally it was pressure from the Presidency to close down cases against Benazir Bhutto under the influence of foreign powers that he had to resign unceremoniously, leaving his four-year tenure of Nab chairman in 18 months.
“I was told repeatedly not to create problems and not to destabilise the government, otherwise the system would collapse. They (the president and his team) gave a strange logic that corruption and economic development go hand in hand,” said Mr Shahid Aziz.
“If you stop corruption, there will be no development. If ministers and politicians are not given personal benefits in contracts, why would they pursue development schemes. They have to be given personal incentives...contracts to their sons and kins,” he quoted Khalid Maqbool, a former Nab chairman, as trying to convince him.
The retired general recalled he faced the “worst-ever pressure” from the president and his team to close down cases against Benazir Bhutto because foreign powers, led by the United Kingdon and the US, were working on a patch-up between Pervez Musharraf and BB.
After a lot of discussions on the subject, Shahid Aziz reminisced, one day presidential aide Tariq Aziz “called me to say that the President had decided to close cases against BB and has asked you to make this happen. I refused and said I would better resign than closing these cases”.
“Tariq Aziz called me up again to say that we have discussed and decided that if you don't close the cases, you can resign. I asked who are these 'we' who have decided so. Tariq Aziz said, Tariq Aziz, Gen Hamid Javed and Gen Kiyani (the then ISI chief). He, however requested that instead of destabilising the government through resignation, you (Gen Aziz) should go on a two-month leave on medical grounds and then resign.
“I obliged and tendered resignation on May 4, 2007, to be effective from July 4, 2007.”
He said he was also pressured to terminate the contracts of lawyers in the BB cases, but was helped by the then attorney general Makhdoom Ali Khan to draft a letter to change the lawyer's contract instead of their termination.
He said he was repeatedly asked by President Musharraf personally to formally close down cases against Chaudhrys and not to open cases against Faisal Saleh Hayat.
He said he declined to close cases against Chaudhrys but did not pursue them either.
He said when he put the name of Malik Riaz Hussain (of Bahria Town) in the exit control list while investigating a forest land case, he had to face bitter arguments with President Musharraf to take out Malik's name from the ECL.
“As President of Pakistan, I give my personal guarantee that he (Malik Riaz) would not run away. Isn't a personal guarantee of the President of Pakistan sufficient to satisfy you”, he quoted Mr Musharraf as saying.
Malik's name was pulled out of the ECL subsequently, he said.
He said he tried to collect and record evidence in pending cases against Nawaz Sharif. He was stopped by the President and his team from investigations, saying these cases had been settled and he had to concede.
He said although he was given a firm commitment that he would be free to investigate new corruption cases instead of opening old cases, he was stopped from pursuing even new corruption cases and specifically mentioned sugar, oil, telecom and banking sector where he was not allowed to investigate .
He said he had to stop investigations into the sugar prices scandal after preliminary investigations because Musharraf had been made to believe that sugar would disappear from the market if investigations continued and that would create problems for the government.
He said he had to issue a statement as chairman of Nab that investigations into the sugar scam had been stopped on the government request on the grounds of sugar disappearance but also mentioned that NAB did not agree to this argument. Tariq Aziz, he said called up to say that he had unnecessarily embarrassed the government.
He said when Nab was investigating into the oil pricing scandal, the then prime minister Shaukat Aziz called him to his office and said “the government of Pakistan has decided to stop investigations into the oil pricing issue. I said, Sir, as per powers given under the NAB law, my institution has decided to investigate the case. The PM in a threatening tone said, think again”. He claimed that PM Aziz, his economic team and Abdullah Yousaf were all responsible for corruption and wrongdoings in the oil pricing.
He said NAB's efforts to probe into telecom and banking sector transactions were foiled by Prime Minister Aziz because he had interests in these sectors. He said he was also not allowed to probe into the 2005 stock exchange crisis. Explaining he said the law did not allow NAB to start investigations in the financial and banking sector unless requested by the State Bank of Pakistan that was under the direct influence of PM Aziz.