The annals of Pakistan’s history indicate that the army was treated as a holy cow. Even if its personnel were involved in corruption, the 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. Recently, however, some senior officers of the Pakistan navy and air force are being tried and the cases have been made public through the media. Indeed, this is the first time that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has revealed the names of three senior army officers - Major General (retd) Khalid Zaheer Akhtar, and Lieutenant Generals (retd) Khalid Munir and Afzal Muzaffar – allegedly involved in 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 the Summary of Evidence (SoE) that is the preliminary step in requisitioning a court martial. The Army Chief, under his discretionary powers, could have taken administrative action against them. However, to make the process transparent and provide 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, reportedly, “the army has reinstated them into active service.” This was done in accordance with Section 92 of the PAA, read in conjunction with Section 40. However, the ISPR has clarified that the accused would not be receiving any pay, allowances and other privileges during the trial.In the face of mounting criticism against the army for not permitting the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to interrogate the Generals, the ISPR emphasised that the National Logistic Board (NLB) 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 into a loss of Rs 1.84 billion to the national exchequer, 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 as well. Basing on the credibility of the evidence accrued through the SoE, the COAS will decide on the next legal step. Nevertheless, some critics say that since the retired generals had committed a civilian offence; therefore, 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 to protect them from harsher punishment. Other misinformed individuals doubt the judicial capabilities of the army. All three services have the Judge Advocate General Branch that 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. In addition, the accused being tried in a military court have the option to be represented by civilian counsel. However, it is a fact that the government has already brought Pakistan and its army a bad name. That is creating all these misperceptions about the armed forces. Last year, for example, 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. However, it was being commented that had the case involved Pakistan Army officers, it would have been swept under the carpet. Nevertheless, by trying the accused officers, the army has belied the speculations. It is only hoped that justice will be served and the accused, if proven guilty, will be punished.
The writer is a political and defence analyst.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org