The recent revelations only reinforce the view of the rot within the Pakistan Army. Senior Generals and officers have been at the receiving end of state largesse in the form of fat salaries and other perks and yet, they have acted in a corrupt fashion that does not behove a military force. Sadly, that is the reality of the Pak military today … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
Lt. Gen. A.K.K. Niazi, the general who commanded Pakistani forces in East Pakistan and surrendered to Indian forces in Dhaka on 16 December 1971 was known for many other things than his military service. He was a well-known womanizer and rapist, as highlighted in the supplementary report to the Hamoodor Commission Report (1974).
Moral lapses of this kind have been common in the Pakistan Army. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to read reports that leaked tax records of General Bajwa’s family show that all of them became billionaires during his tenure as Pakistan’s Army Chief. Corruption runs deep in the Pakistan Army and Gen. Bajwa is no exception. The recent revelations only reinforce the view of the rot within the Pakistan Army. Senior Generals and officers have been at the receiving end of state largesse in the form of fat salaries and other perks and yet, they have acted in a corrupt fashion that does not behove a military force. Sadly, that is the reality of the Pak military today.
The Pakistani website FactFocus revealed details of financial dealings of various members of Bajwa’s family, including his wife Ayesha Amjad and his daughter-in-law Mahnoor Sabir. The report, written by a journalist by the name of Ahmed Noorani, claimed that family members of Bajwa had acquired assets amounting to PKR 12.7 billion during Bajwa’s term. The leaked tax records of the family also revealed the assets of Ayesha Amjad went from zero in 2016 to PKR 2.2 billion (declared and known) in six years. As noted Pakistani scholar, Ayesha Siddiqa writes Bajwa’s family also benefitted in other ways.
“From getting his sister-in-law Asma Bajwa the position of a highly paid human resource consultant for the national airline to helping his 70-year-old brother retain a cushy Pakistan International Airline (PIA) job in the UK, there is so much that Bajwa must answer for”, writes Siddiqa.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar ordered a probe into the ‘illegal, unwarranted’ leak of the COAS’ family tax records and directed the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Revenue, Tariq Mehmood Pasha to personally lead the probe, affix responsibility, and submit a report within 24 hours. Following the announcement of the probe into the leak, Ahmed Noorani posted on his Twitter account that the government had confirmed the accuracy of his article. This news of military officials amassing this kind of wealth and acquiring capital is however, not new to Pakistan.
In August 2020, journalist Ahmad Noorani had investigated the alleged offshore properties and businesses of Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa (Retd), former head of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority. Usman Manzoor, also an investigative journalist from FactFocus, had previously published a report showing the tax records of former PM Imran Khan and alleged that he and his wife hadn’t declared the value of the foreign gifts they had retained at ‘throwaway prices’.
“The growth of the Bajwa family’s business empire in the United States, and later in Pakistan, directly matches the rise in power of General Asim Saleem Bajwa, who is now chairman of the country’s massive China-financed infrastructure project and a special assistant to the Prime Minister,” the report published on Fact Focus stated. General Bajwa’s family becoming wealthy under his watch as Army Chief has to be seen in the context of the role that the Pakistani military plays in the nation’s economy. It runs a huge commercial empire, an internal economy estimated to be billions of dollars, all outside the purview of the formal economy.
Siddiqa, in her book Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, identifies two of the military’s biggest business conglomerates in the country: The Fauji Foundation and the Army Welfare Trust. This kind of ‘military capital’ does not follow protocols and norms of accountability that government institutions follow or even a military project or programme financed by the public sector. The corruption reaches the highest levels of the army with former Army Chief General Ashfaq Kiyani’s brothers being reportedly involved in a multi-billion Rupee housing scandal in Islamabad. Similarly, a Quetta Corps Commander Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa gained notoriety as “General Papa Jones” or “General Pizza” after an expose of how his family had invested tens of millions of dollars in the Papa Jones Pizza chain in the US and his sons were given lucrative contracts when this General was serving as the head of the ISPR.
Despite the furore, no action, not even an inquiry was ordered. Just a few months ago, data leak from Credit Suisse, (Economic Times, 5 March 2022) an investment banking firm registered in Switzerland implicated General Akhtar Abdur Rahman Khan, a former ISI chief for having diverted funds for the CIA/ISI war against Russia to his sons (The Dawn, 21 February 2022). This again brought to light the extent to which greed and corruption run amok in the Pakistan Army, especially among its Generals. The report lists several examples of scandals and corrupt deals that Pakistani Generals have been involved in over the past few years, including running extortion networks, and protecting and partaking in smuggling networks in Balochistan, leasing out government properties at extremely low prices and even taking bribes in defence deals. The rot within the Pakistani Army is thus deep.
Little do people realise that more than their fighting capability, the military machine has become an expert in siphoning off money from multiple sources. The latest instance of General Bajwa is thus no exception and one can find several such instances in the past. A reading of his recent farewell speech at GHQ and suggestion to the ranks to remain out of politics is well taken. However, the timing of the leak showing his family’s wealth showed that the political war between the army and politicians could well go deeper in the months to come as Pakistan approaches elections.
One aspect of Pakistan’s current situation is corruption within the Army. As Lord Acton once said, “Power corrupts and corrupts absolutely”. That is the lesson learnt from General Bajwa’s family story becoming wealthy overnight.