Former DG-ISPR says Army has been covering up corruption problem for years

Major General Rashid QureshiEveryone knows that officers are honest and politicians are corrupt, but what if I told you that military officers might be just as corrupt as their civilian counterparts? You would say I am crazy, of course. But what if DG-ISPR told you? Now will you listen?

This is exactly what has happened in the fallout of six high-ranking officers being forced to retire due to fault. Explaining the shock felt within the military and the unusual silence from Army’s media wing, former DG-ISPR Maj-Gen (r) Rashid Qureshi said that corruption has been a problem in the military since long but the institution has kept an official policy of hiding it from the public.

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

The Major General’s statement was corroborated by former Judge Advocate General (JAG) Army Brigadier (r) Wasaf Khan Niazi:

“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.”

By forcing six high-ranking officers to retire due to fault for their role in corruption, Gen Raheel has shown what he meant by ‘across the board accountability’. It is commonly accepted that Gen Raheel’s move was a brilliant political strategy to force political parties to clean their houses. However questions are now being raised about the extent of corruption within the military itself, and whether this move by COAS was a publicity stunt or whether there will be a full and independent inquiry into military corruption and how the institution has been covering it up for decades.

Don of Dons

Bahria Town Karachi

When the Panama Papers story broke, I wrote that just because someone wasn’t named in the leaks it doesn’t mean that they are corruption free. I noted a few examples of privileged institutions showing signs of severe corruption that have never been given the attention like politicians. However there was no way I could have predicted what would come next.

Dawn’s report exposing Bahria Town is amazing for many reasons, beginning with the fact that it ever saw the light of day. Like the Panama Papers, what is shocking is not to find out that there is corruption, but to see it laid out so plainly before our eyes. The Bahria Town report is even bigger than Panama Papers though because it directly exposes the one institution that is considered beyond criticism: the military.

The Bahria Town expose is a big story by itself, but it is made even more stark as it is read while Army troops are literally going to war against their peasants. No, this is not a typo. TV anchors will not be covering this development as closely as PM’s shopping spree medical care in London, but it is no less reality.

Chotu gang operations may be in the headlines but Army is also carrying out operations in Okara where they have deployed heavily armed troops against Pakistani farmers who dared to protest their conditions.

Army's anti-farmer operations in Okara

This is not the first time that Army has turned its guns on the farmers who work their land. Conditions at Okara Military Farms have been lamented by the peasants who work there for years, and only two years ago Army troops opened fire on the farmers for daring to protest against being treated like disposable serfs by their feudal military lords.

Panama Papers has shown us just how wide spread is the problem of corruption in our society. But Bahria Town and Okara Military Farms are showing us that overseas accounts and posh London tailors are peanuts compared to what is taking place right before our eyes. Our political leaders may be feudals, but in reality they are mere vassals compared to the real Lords of Pakistan.

Crooks and Liars

Fauji Cement

The leaked ‘Panama Papers’ have confirmed what everyone was already sure of: Political leaders are crooks who are bleeding the country dry. Equally predictable is the response of many who are calling for the Army to step in and stop the crooks from looting the country. However, buried under the popular narrative are some inconvenient facts that should be considered.

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What Mohammad Taqi’s firing means for freedom of press in Pakistan

breaking free

Army’s grip on media has been tightening ever since it was loosened it in 2002, ironically by the military dictator Gen Musharraf. Some of the pressure is to hold Army’s official PR narrative that Zarb-e-Azb is a huge success and Pakistan is a nation on the rise instead of one steeped in extremism and violence. It is why even though hundreds of innocents are killed in terrorist attacks, the mood of the nation is improving. But this is like hypnotising a cancer patient to believe they are healed. They may be happier, but the cancer continues to eat away at their body anyway.

The genius of Army’s censorship of media is that it is  usually indirect and happens behind the scenes. Mostly this has been cleverly accomplished by pressurising media owners and their editors to self-censor, giving the Army its much loved ‘plausible deniability’. Yes, there is the occasional case of someone like Saleem Shahzad or Hamid Mir, but these are extreme cases used to send a message to more…sensible…journalists. But what happens when a journalist lives overseas and refuses to tow the Army’s line. What happens if his weekly column is airing dirty laundry and raising very uncomfortable questions about sensitive issues like Balochistan? Living overseas makes him harder to…persuade…and so maybe his column just goes away. This is what has apparently happened with columnist Mohammad Taqi who has had his column canceled by Daily Times under pressure from Army.

The last straw may have been his last column for Daily Times, which directly contradicted Army’s statements to US officials, and did so with very inconvenient facts.

We should think about what this means. Daily Times is well known as a liberal newspaper. It is published in English. This has usually provided some protection as the audience is seen as too small and liberal to matter. It provides more plausible deniability as officials can point to this and say, “See, we have a robust debate in our media!” As long as everyone knows their place and the acceptable boundaries, things are fine. Remember, Raza Rumi was not attacked until he began giving his analysis in Urdu, not English.

With Mohammad Taqi’s firing means is that these boundaries are shrinking. Now even in Daily Times it is not acceptable to contradict the official line.

Those who want to manage – or hide – the truth have obviously not learned one important lesson from the United States. The more you try to cover up the truth, the more it will spread. From Wikileaks to Edwards Snowden, there are people who are not willing to be silenced. Mohammad Taqi’s column may not appear in Daily TImes, but it will not go away.

In response to Daily Times canceling Mohammad Taqi’s column, New Pakistan will be opening up our site to any journalist who is being pressurised by his editor or his media group. We will publish the truth without fear, and make sure the voices of progressive Pakistan does not go silent.

Stay tuned…

Is Jamaat-ud-Dawa Army’s Disaster Relief Wing?

Earlier this year, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar warned that “no Non-Government Organisation (NGO) working against the country’s national interest will be allowed to continue its work in Pakistan”. According to the Minister, “government cannot compromise on national interest”. This sounds very good, but it is interesting to note certain NGOs that have been allowed to continue working and ask what does this mean about how we define “national interest”. This is of particular interest when we observe how Jamaat-ud-Dawa is not only allowed to operate, but works hand in hand with Army.

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