Beyond the law
THE move is so brazen that it would be amusing if it wasn’t deeply worrying: three retired generals inducted back into the military simply to prevent the civilian anti-corruption set-up from trying them for mismanagement of public funds. The three former army men accused of violating rules to invest National Logistics Cell funds, including large bank loans, in the stock market — and providing kickbacks and losing nearly Rs2bn in the process, including pensioners’ money — will now be court-martialled instead of being investigated by NAB. The two civilian NLC managers also accused of wrongdoing will, meanwhile, continue to be subject to the NAB probe. The decision follows three years of delays in the investigation caused mainly by the army’s refusal to share records and cooperate with the probe. And after all that foot-dragging, the military has finally found a way out. The inquiry and trial of its own men will be kept behind closed doors, despite the fact that they have squandered public money. The message is clear: the military expects to be able to operate as a state within a state, an organisation exempt from the rules and responsibilities under which the rest of the population operates.
The move also raises questions, once again, about the appropriateness of the army’s involvement in commercial ventures. Even those that administratively report to civilian organisations, such as the NLC, which technically sits under the Planning Commission, are effectively controlled by the army through managers who are retired and serving officers. The multiple reporting lines, limited civilian auditing and military influence that result make it all the more difficult to scrutinise their operations and their use of public funds. When they provide goods and services entirely unrelated to defence, they raise questions about whether running them is the best use of the army’s time and resources. In some sectors, their military connections turn them into market players that enjoy unfair advantages compared to private companies. And now this privileged position has allowed one such entity to avoid a civilian investigation and trial to which, as retired officers, its former managers should be liable.
Corruption within the Pakistani state is not limited to the army; from the country’s top politicians to its lower-level bureaucrats, government officials entertain and horrify us with a steady stream of scams. With the Malik Riaz scandal, even the superior judiciary’s honour has been called into question. But at least these entities are subject to public investigations and trials, no matter how tainted or delayed. When the army takes a case into a military court, it turns a flawed investigation into an unseen one.