You can Hide, You Cannot Run

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The arrest of former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Mansurul Haq from a select posh area in Texas, USA marks a significant step forward for the process of accountability in Pakistan. Substantial evidence is on record about the Admiral’s financial indiscretions, even the lavish abode and the manner of his living in the US was way beyond the means of a retired Naval officer. His incarceration, pending extradition to Pakistan, will act as a model to bring other fugitives to justice. The Chinese say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, to get the American system of justice to acknowledge that the evidence being presented from Pakistan was not tainted by prejudice is one very giant step. From the statement of witnesses it is apparent that the Admiral’s only salvation lies in becoming a prosecution witness, i.e. blowing the police whistle on his collaborators, among them politicians, bureaucrats, uniformed (and retired) colleagues, arms merchants, brokers, etc all those involved in skimming millions of dollars from purchases made by the Pakistan Armed Forces over the years.

The ruling military elite cannot be accused of bias against the Navy, this case was instituted by the political regime of Mian Nawaz Sharif, as against Air Marshal (Retd) Waqar Azim, jailed because of the PIA computers case. The Army has utilized the maximum portion of the Defence purchases, rumours abound of several hundreds of millions of dollars pocketed in commissions, ranging from helicopter gunships to artillery shells to tanks, etc why has no senior person ex-Army been prosecuted for corruption in arms trade? The perception of justice being seen to be fair and equitable is only when it is applied even-handedly, on friend and foe alike. The much vilified former Senator Saifur Rehman did yeoman’s work in going after the corrupt, unfortunately some cases were blatantly politically motivated, on the contrary very obvious evidence leading to logical conclusion of indictment and prosecution against PML’s politicians, friends and colleagues was conveniently ignored, this blatant partiality undermining his credibility and that of the entire accountability process during Mian Nawaz Sharif’s regime. The Supreme Court (SC) recognized this bias in setting aside verdict in the Bhutto-Zardari SGS/Cotecna, however on the basis of the evidence has ordered a re-trial. Having given the SC a clean bill of health it will be virtually impossible for Ms Benazir to tar and feather them the next time around if she is declared guilty, hence the overtures to the military regime. While blowing hot for the general public, she is busy trying to strike a pre-emptive equal to sustain her political longevity. As a political animal, Ms. Benazir has no living equal in Pakistan, at least at her level, except Abbaji, of course. She out-maneuvered “master manipulator” Ghulam Ishaq Khan twice to become the PM, the second time she ensured he remained out in the cold never to return to power.

According to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), both of whose chiefs, Amjad and later successor Khalid Maqbool, deserve plaudits. Nabbing Admiral Haq, even remotely is no ordinary achievement, a few dozen people more are being sought to be extradited. Due process of the law is being applied despite the frustration of delays. More than welcome is the sea change in the attitude of the US Administration, which seems to agree about prosecuting fugitives who have robbed their countries of millions and have found safe haven in the US. The US has been concerned that other countries may apply corruption laws to US citizens in a selective and whimsical manner, that fabricated evidence may be used by countries to target political opponents (non US-citizens) presently out of their reach. Mansurul Haq’s case signals that the US judicial system recognizes that the NAB presentation of evidence is not tainted by any other motivation but to bring the corrupt to justice. The US cannot afford that it be seen as a safe haven for fugitives on the run, as a pleasure island of last resort for criminals, those who thought they could live forever off the gravy they had looted. For them it is very bad news, the long arm of Pakistani justice is about to catch up. They can run, they cannot hide!

The Chief Executive (CE) recently unveiled a very pragmatic plan to turn Karachi into Hong Kong, the “Proposals for the Economic Revival of Karachi” (PERK) were exceedingly well thought out, pragmatic and do-able. The problem was in naming Hong Kong as a model rather than Singapore. The CE was probably sensitive to former PM Mian Nawaz Sharif’s fascination for Lee Kwan Yew and Singapore. Hong Kong is a very bad example to emulate, being built on a foundation of evil, viz drugs, smuggling, prostitution, etc. Singapore’s leaders were acutely aware of this when laying the foundations of their city-state. Hong Kong was controlled and in many ways is still run, by a cabal of businessmen who pragmatically combine their legal commerce and industry with more than centuries old thriving illegal trade. Hong Kong did become the commercial capital of the East, at what price? For every moderately affluent Hong Kong citizen, ten still live well below the poverty line. The CE meant well in inviting Karachi business houses to be part of the revival process, most of their acquired wealth has been by illegal means and mostly at Pakistan’s cost. Millions may have been brought back and invested in Pakistan, a major percentage remains un-taxed, abroad in safe havens beyond the reach of taxation. Why does the NAB not investigate the barter trade of the late 70s and 80s when every year several hundreds of millions of dollars were siphoned from Pakistan? European countries (nowadays) are very sensitive to corruption at their government level, why not seek their assistance formally to unearth the millions of US dollars, etc paid to the local Pakistani agents of their government trading companies doing barter trade with Pakistan during that period? Why not look into the Ministry of Commerce’s files to see how traditional items among the “export” list was increased and non-traditional decreased to suit those looting Pakistan?

The government is really sincere about targetting those who have benefited at the cost of Pakistan, why not let NAB write officially through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to (1) Sweden (2) Finland (3) Hungary (4) Czechoslovakia (5) Poland and (6) Romania and ask them, viz (1) since 1976 till the barter trade terminated who were the local agents in Pakistan of their government trading companies nominated for barter trade with Pakistan? (2) What was the amount of commission, disagio, discount etc paid to them for services rendered pertaining to the barter with Pakistan. (3) What amount (with details) was sent to Pakistan? (4) What amount was sent to overseas accounts of the companies or individuals or offshore companies and their details? Currently engaged in framing its code of conduct pertaining to corruption, money-laundering, illegal trade etc and EU should have no compunctions in helping Pakistan to nail down those who have spirited money abroad. If the various businesses have brought their commissions to Pakistan and paid taxes on them, then there is no reason for grievance. But if they have secreted money abroad, then what is the difference between them and our former naval chief? Coincidentally one of them is the prime witness against Mansurul Haq. NAB should show its commitment to accountability by immediately seizing all the files with the Ministry of Commerce pertaining to barter trade in the last two decades.

Which brings us to the heart of the problem, to differentiate between the honest and the crooked. In this country the crooked invariably find a niche close to the rulers that allows them a “protection” of sorts, they stay beyond the reach of any investigation, what to talk about indictment, prosecution and incarceration. On the strength of the illegal money stolen from the impoverished people of Pakistan, they then build fairy castles in Karachi, for the rich only. But then the government is sending conflicting signals by the single-minded pursuit of Admiral Mansurul Haq, that they will not tolerate corruption in any quarter, whatever the level. A strong element among the rulers seem to genuinely want those have looted Pakistan to be brought to justice, that represents the core of Mosharraf’s moral authority to rule Pakistan. In fact Mansurul Haq’s arrest in the US by US authorities, pending extradition, sends a clear message that one hopes will not be compromised by motivated interests that join the bandwagon of every government. The clear unambiguous message is, you can hide, you cannot run!

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

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