ISLAMABAD - After facing strong criticism over reinstating the retired generals for their court martial in the NLC scam, Pakistan Army on Friday backtracked from its previous stance and denied rehiring the three ex-servicemen while defending the army chief‘s decision to try them under the Pakistan Army Act (PAA).
Last week, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was taken by surprise after having learnt that the General Headquarters (GHQ) had reinstated Lieutenant General (r) Khalid Munir Khan, Lieutenant General (r) Mohammad Afzal Muzzafar and Major General (r) Khalid Zaheer Akhtar, the three former bosses at the National Logistics Cell (NLC), for conducting court martial proceedings against them, owing to their involvement in a mega corruption scam at the NLC amounting in billions of rupees.
During the respective tenures of these generals, the NLC had taken bank loans exceeding 4.3 billion rupees in stark violation of rules that caused the NLC a huge loss of nearly two billion rupees. The NLC had to pay a mark up payment of around three million rupees per day to the banks.
The revelation regarding reinstating the said generals came as an unprecedented move, being the one and only of its kind in Pakistan military’s history. It had sparked enormous criticism from people belonging to different cross-sections of the society who believed that the former generals were being treated as ‘sacred cows’ and their malpractices were being tried to be hushed up in the garb of trial under military rules.
Different cases against several retired army officers including General (r) Pervaiz Musharraf are pending in Pakistan’s civilian courts. According to ISPR, the inquiry report into the NLC scam had landed in GHQ on September 20, 2010. The ISPR official however did not mention as to why after the passage of almost two years, no action had been taken against the officers who were found guilty of irregularities in the inquiry.
The detailed army statement contended that the three ex-generals were being tried under the PAA (Pakistan Army Act) “for recording the summaries of evidence. It was impliedly confirmed that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had used his official powers to prefer PAA over the civilian accountability set-up administered by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
“(The) COAS as a prescribed officer (PAA Section 94 and Criminal Procedure (Military Offenders) Rules 1970) had to decide whether to proceed against the accused under PAA or through a civil court/NAB. The COAS decided to proceed under PAA.” The ISPR statement made no mention as to why the summary of evidence was cited as an explanation to try the three retired officers under PAA when several ex-army officers were duly put to trial under civilian set-up.
Moreover, the media release lacked any details as to when the military would complete its proceedings of the already much belated case. It merely informed that the COAS will ‘decide’ on the next step “basing on the credibility of the evidence accrued through these summaries of evidence.”
Sharing background details of the scam, the military statement said, in February 2009, the PAC discussed the draft para number 214 and observed that NLC management had invested in stocks by purchasing shares of different enlisted companies/institutions, violating the Board of Directors (BoD) instructions. Thereafter, the secretary Planning & Development (P&D) Division constituted an inquiry committee to probe into the irregularities. Findings of this inquiry committee were finalised in January 2010.
The recommendations of P&D Division inquiry concerning retired army officers were subsequently referred to the GHQ through Ministry of Defence (MoD) on September 20, 2010. Court of Inquiry by the secretary P&D did not accuse any individual of NLC for embezzlement or financial misappropriation but for irregularities, lack of transparency and failure in observing rules and regulations.
The ISPR defended the COAS decision to order a formal investigation instead of a proper administrative action because “opting for an administrative action would have entailed use of discretionary powers by the COAS, whereas opting for a formal investigation, though time consuming, is obviously much more fair and transparent, allowing a fair chance to both the prosecution and the defendant. The COAS opted for latter course of action.”
In September 2011, one good year after this mega scam had landed in the GHQ, the summary of evidence was ordered. Even though, the retired army officers have been tried under the civilian accountability apparatus, the ISPR claimed that the armed forces, ‘the world over, without exception’ were governed by separate military laws. But it did not clarify if the same rules were applicable on the retired army officers that could be duly tried under civilian laws.
“It is also important to note that Pakistan Army Act is a substantive act of the parliament and not a departmental law,” the army’s press release said while demanding ‘appreciation’ for applying PAA on the former generals. “It must be appreciated that for first time in the history of Pakistan Army, retired senior officers have been recalled, taken on strength and subjected to thorough process of investigation.”