S. M. Hali
The annals of Pakistan’s history indicate that till recently, the Army was treated as a holy cow. Even if its personnel were involved in corruption, their trial or other administrative action taken against them would be hushed up and the general public or media would not even get a whiff of the case. Some senior officers of the Pakistan Navy and Air Force on the other hand, have been tried and the cases have been public knowledge however, this is the first time that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has made public the names of three senior army officers, Major General Khalid Zaheer Akhtar, Lieutenant Generals Khalid Munir and Afzal Muzzafar to be involved in what is now being termed as the National Logistic Cell (NLC) scam. It goes to the army’s credit that instead of hushing the scandal up, it ordered investigations and recording of Summary of Evidence (SoE), which is the preliminary step in requisitioning a Court Martial. The Army Chief, under his discretionary powers, could have taken administrative action against them but to make the process transparent and providing a fair chance to both the prosecutor and the defendant, he ordered them to be tried under military law. For the recording of the SoE, it was essential to bring the accused officers under Pakistan Army Act (PAA); hence since the accused officers had already retired, they had to be taken back on the strength of the army. This was done in accordance with PAA Section 92, read in conjunction with Section 40. ISPR has released details of its investigation, taking pains to clarify that the accused officers have neither been re-hired nor reinstated, nor would they be receiving any pay, allowances and other privileges for the period.
In face of mounting criticism against the army for not permitting the NAB (National Accountability Bureau) to interrogate the three retired Generals accused of causing billions in losses to the national exchequer, the ISPR rejoinder is attempted at justifying Army’s actions. The ISPR emphasizes that National Logistics Board implemented important reforms after the case came to light in 2009, stating that the NLC returned approximately Rs 9.3 billion in loans in 2011 and posted a net profit of Rs 3 billion. That does not atone for the financial scandal, which resulted in a loss of Rs1.84 billion to the national kitty, where the accused illegally borrowed Rs 4.3 billion from banks and invested the money in the stock market by purchasing shares of different enlisted companies/institutions, violating the NLC's board of directors (BoD) instructions.
The GHQ is evaluating the evidence and experts are being consulted in the investigation of the record of the case. Basing on the credibility of the evidence accrued through the SoE, the COAS will decide on the next legal step. Some critics point out that since the former Generals had committed a civilian offence; they should have been investigated by the NAB and tried by a civilian court. They construe that the move to re-subject them to the PAA and try them through a military court, may be an attempt at protecting them from harsher punishment. The fact is that the trio has already brought Pakistan and its Army a bad name. The military community is seething with anger as its code of honour:"A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do" has been violated. The honour code is instilled in the tender minds when the future officers of the army report to the Military Academy as “Gentlemen Cadets”. The operative adjective here is “Gentlemen”. Some misinformed individuals even doubt the judicial capabilities of the Army. All three services have the Judge Advocate General Branch, which is staffed with officers, drawn from the legal community, who are well versed with the civil jurisprudence as well as the Armed Forces Act pertaining to each service. Moreover, the accused being tried in a military court have the option to be represented by civilian counsel.
Last year a financial scandal involving serving officers of the rank of Lieutenant General in the Indian Army was reported widely in the media. The officers were tried in a civilian court and it was being commented that had the case involved Pakistan Army officers, it would have been swept under the carpet. However, by trying the accused officers, Pakistan Army has belied the speculations. It is only hoped that justice will be served and the accused, if proven guilty will be punished accordingly.