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Pakistan Armed Forces’ Art Of ‘Institutionalising’ Corruption – OpEd

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“… Which country’s army operates housing schemes? The army’s job is to protect the country’s borders; not to participate in commercial activities. — Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, 2019

If one goes by what’s written on the top-left hand side of its entrance, then it’s clear that the imposing building on the banks of Islamabad’s Rawal Lake is a ‘Club House’. Similarly, after seeing a Geo TV video grab of ‘Membership Subscription of Facilities’ listing out rates applicable to members of defence services, civil bureaucrats, businessmen and diplomats on a sliding-scale, there can be no two views that this club house is a commercial enterprise. However, if former Pakistan navy chief Admiral Zafar Mehmud Abbasi is to be believed, then this facility is “neither a club in the traditional sense nor is it a commercial enterprise.”

However, as Islamabad High Court [IHC] has ordered demolition of Pakistan Navy Rawal Club House within three weeks, it’s obvious that Admiral Abassi’s ambiguous explanation [which is in essence is just a desperate attempt to defend the indefensible], hasn’t cut any ice with the judiciary. Observing that that this project was “illegal, without lawful authority and jurisdiction,” IHC noted that “Some classes are probably genuinely convinced that they are above the law. No one is above the law and whoever undermines the rule of law ought to be held accountable and made an example, so as to bring an end to decades of impunity.” 

This observation is not only applicable to Pakistan navy or its Rawal Club and PN Farms projects. It’s a direct indictment of Pakistani armed forces and its cavalier ways. This is evident from the court’s observation that “the engagement of the armed forces in an activity which is a transgression from the constitutional mandate e.g., undertaking commercial or real estate ventures etc. is definitely not in the public interest.” What’s even more censorious is IHC’s pithy remark that “Its [Pakistan armed forces] coercive power, strength and discipline can only be used for the restricted functions prescribed under the Constitution rather than using these characteristics to enforce its will on the people that created it.”

IHC has made it clear that Rawal club building “shall not be regularised in any manner for having been illegally constructed in an ecologically sensitive area in violation of the mandatory provisions.” However, whether Rawalpindi allows it to be razed to ground as directed by the court remains to be seen, because if this happens it will open floodgates of several such illegal commercial projects being run by Pakistani armed forces, notably the army. Readers would recall that in 2016, the then Defence Minister Khwaja Asif had informed National Assembly that Pakistani armed forces were running nearly “50 [commercial] projects, units and housing colonies.”  

Just two months ago, the issue of using defence land for commercial purposes by Pakistani armed forces came up once again when Chief Justice of Pakistan [CJP] Justice Gulzar Ahmed told the Defence Secretary that “This land was given to you for strategic and defence [purposes, but] you have started commercial activities on it,” and asked, “Were wedding halls, cinemas and housing societies built for defence purposes?” The CJP then delivered the coup de grace by saying, “Go and tell all the chiefs [of Pakistani armed forces] that the land meant for defence purposes will not be used for commercial objectives. Go to all the military cantonments and tell them [defence personnel] the land will be used only for strategic purposes.”

Pakistani Generals, Air Marshals and Admirals have for long tried to portray the profits accruing from commercial enterprises being run by the defence forces are being utilised for the welfare of soldiers and their families. While this is true, but it’s also a fact that high-ranking officers of Pakistan’s armed forces use the emotive ‘welfare of troops’ façade to surreptitiously skim off a major part of profits for their personal use. All that those who don’t believe this have to do is to see the palatial houses, large retinue of servants and lavish lifestyles of retired Pakistan army Generals. 

Deutsche Welle (DW) has quoted US-based Pakistan watcher, security analyst and author of bestseller ‘Shadow War-The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir’ Arif Jamal as saying that “The [Pakistan] army is involved in the smuggling of oil and narcotics through the borders of the Western Balochistan province. The military also makes money through its checkpoints in the restive province. All drivers have to bribe the officers to pass through these posts. These are just a few examples.” 

Former civil servant and noted Pakistani columnist Irfan Husain has revealed that “Land is acquired [by Pakistan army] at nominal rates from provincial governments, and developed with money taken as advance payments for residential and commercial plots from officers. Allotment letters are then sold to civilians at several multiples of the price they paid.” 

Even Supreme Court Judge Justice Gulzar Ahmed took a snipe at Pakistan army’s Defence Housing Authority [DHA] by his sarcastic observation that “DHA of Karachi have encroached so far into the sea. If they had their way, they would build a city on the sea. The owners of DHA would encroach on the entire sea all the way to America and then plant their flags there. The owners of DHA are wondering how they can make inroads into India!”

Pakistan army has so cunningly ‘institutionalised’ corruption that civilians started believing illegal freebies being enjoyed by defence personnel as an ‘entitlement’. For example, even though there’s no legal provisions for free land allotment to senior army officers, this practice is still prevalent and former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif was ‘gifted’ a whopping 90 acres of prime land. Commenting on this illegal practice, Pakistan Supreme Court Judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa noted with concern that “… senior members of the armed forces get plots and agricultural lands and continue to be given additional plots and agricultural lands as they rise up the ranks.” 

Given that they have everything to lose, it’s very unlikely that Pakistani armed forces will remain silent spectators while the navy’s Rawal Club house is demolished as ordered by IHC, because if the navy club goes today, who knows, it could well be marriage halls and restaurants run by Pakistan army tomorrow. So, come what may, the armed forces of Pakistan will do all it can to preserve its unique ecosystem crammed with unauthorised perks and privileges! 

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Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

2 thoughts on “Pakistan Armed Forces’ Art Of ‘Institutionalising’ Corruption – OpEd

  • January 12, 2022 at 9:16 am
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    The saying goes that most countries have an army, but Pakistan’s Army has a country. Even when it is not in power — the Pakistani military wields tremendous influence as a kingmaker. Now their Chief Lt. Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa is looking for the third extention.– Pakistani military is the past, present and the future of the country…So they even appoint PMs. When the military wields power it is but logical that they are looking after themselves anything wrong….However some take a larger pound of flesh from the profit?

    Reply
  • January 12, 2022 at 9:36 am
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    Interesting read. You could remove all mentions of Pakistan armed forces and insert Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and it would still be applicable except there would never be a court case to report on.

    Reply

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