The Generals of Pakistan

Pakistan fenced Afghan border: Twitter source @RizwanNajamm

In the 1990s, journalists in Islamabad would often narrate the story of the great rivalry between the sons of the dead dictator General Zia-ul-Haq and his equally dead ISI Chief Akhtar Abdur Rehman. One of the sons of Rehman was often quoted as disdainfully dismissing Zia’s son and saying that his father had just amassed a fortune of $250 million which was peanuts compared to what Rehman had amassed. The leaked Credit Suisse documents only corroborate the “jihad for personal profit” that was waged by Rehman during the 1980s. But these leaked documents only touch the tip of the iceberg as far as how much the top Generals of Pakistan Army skimmed in the name of the Holy War against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. 

Credit Suisse is only one Swiss Bank whose data has been leaked. There are dozens of other banks in Switzerland whose accounts remain secret. Back in the day when General Rehman and his colleague and relative General Zahid Ali Akbar were stashing their ill-gotten wealth in Swiss Banks, Switzerland was the Mecca of money laundering. In recent years, other safe havens have emerged for laundering and parking money. But it is suspected that many Pakistani generals and bureaucrats have had secret Swiss Bank accounts. Some of these accounts might have closed because monies were either moved elsewhere or invested in business or property. Rehman’s sons are a prime example. They are one of the richest families in Pakistan with vast business interests. The sons claim that their wealth is self-earned but there is no money trail that they have brought forward to corroborate the source of their wealth. Incidentally, one of the brothers who is part of Imran Khan’s political party was most insistent on Nawaz Sharif producing a money trail to explain his family’s flats in London. 

Even though the Credit Suisse leaks have exposed Rehman and Akbar, there has been a conspiracy of silence inside Pakistan. The media has discussed the case but in a very subdued manner. If it had been a politician the media would have gone ballistic. But since this scandal involves a former General and any exposé of his corruption will cast a shadow over the Pakistan Army and sully its carefully crafted image of incorruptibility and honesty, the media cannot agitate the issue beyond a point. This sort of cover up is what has led to a culture of impunity in the Pakistan Army, especially in the top echelons. There are innumerable stories of the wealth accumulated by Generals, but most of these stories are discussed behind closed doors and in hushed tones. 

It is not as if the Generals of Pakistan Army are underpaid and incentivised to dip their hand in the till. A three star General retires as a billionaire in Pakistani rupees – multi-millionaires in dollars. This is all legitimate as the Pakistan state gives concessional plots, both commercial and residential and also a few square yards of agricultural land. Other officers also get the goodies from the state. A former army Chief Raheel Sharif was allotted over 100 acres of prime agricultural land on the outskirts of Lahore after his retirement. This was in addition to all his other entitlements.

Another former Chief and Dictator General Pervez Musharraf built nearly 30 properties, including fancy farm houses, luxury apartments in Middle East and London, and houses in Karachi and other Pakistani cities. In Musharraf’s case, many eyebrows have been raised about the source of his money. He has claimed he got a gift from the Saudi King. But politicians have been hauled over the coals just for possessing an “Iqama” (work permit) which is more often than not used just for gaining entry into the UAE or Saudi Arabia or some other Middle Eastern country without having to go through the normal channels. 

But it increasingly seems that the motto of the Pakistan Army officers is ‘Greed is Good’. There are innumerable scandals and sordid stories of the financial bungling, bribery, extortion, influence peddling by serving and retired generals for personal profit. There are also reports of their involvement in smuggling rackets and narcotics trafficking. A former ISI Chief’s brother sold an Airbus aircraft for a pittance to a museum in Europe. Another former ISI Chief was employed by Pakistan’s biggest real estate developer to work as his hatchet man in the UAE. A former Corps Commander in Quetta along with a bunch of other senior officers was found involved in running extortion networks and protecting and partaking in smuggling networks in Balochistan. This scandal erupted when one of the sons of a Major General was involved in a car crash while driving a Ferrari. Another Quetta Corps Commander 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. 

Former Generals have been found to be involved in leasing out invaluable land of the railways for a pittance to a golf club. Other have cut deals with the very person who they were supposed to be investigating. These are in the in-famous ‘gas agency’ Generals who were allotted gas quotas by the leading gas entrepreneur in Pakistan as he was being investigated by the anti-corruption watchdog NAB. All these Generals were heading NAB at different times when they got these gas quotas. Recently when the Broadsheet scandal erupted, it became known that the Generals had signed a deal with a fictitious company which wooed them with nothing more than a round of gold in Colorado. Later, when a settlement was being worked out with the owner of Broadsheet, a serving ISI General Irfan Malik was negotiating a side deal in which he would get a cut from the settlement amount. 

It is a known fact that former Generals have bought huge ranches in US, farms in Australia, hotels in Malaysia. A former Army Chief General Ashfaq Kiyani’s brothers are involved in a multi-billion rupee housing scandal in Islamabad. They used the Army Chief’s name to swing a patently illegal deal for the same real estate baron mentioned earlier. Another former Corps Commander of Lahore is believed to have cornered over a 100 plots in a new Defence Housing Authority (DHA) sector and made billions. The more honest of the officers are often accommodated in the various business enterprises run by the Pakistan Army. The thing with these businesses is that they enjoy an unfair advantage over the competition. They are virtual monopolies which are given undue concessions, tax breaks, licenses, contracts etc without normal procedures being followed. 

The Generals of Pakistan Army not only live off the people and the state, but they also short change their own institutions. Stories of the top brass taking bribes in defence deals are legion in Pakistan. A former Vice Air Chief who often pontificates on honesty on TV channels has been found to have invested in expensive apartments in Dubai. When asked to give details of where the money came from, he hemmed and hawed but never gave the money trail. Another former Corps Commander was recently found to have an expensive apartment in London. This was disclosed in the Pandora Papers leaks. The General gave some convoluted explanation of where the money came from but never gave the documentary evidence of whether the money was transferred through legal channels or using the Hawala networks, i.e. money laundering. The same General was in the forefront of asking Nawaz Sharif to give the detailed trail of the transactions with which his family’s London apartments were purchased. 

The Air Marshal referred to above was involved in the JF-17 deal. A former Naval Chief was arrested for having taken huge bribes from the French for purchase of the Scorpene submarines. A former Ambassador to US writes in her autobiography of how the Generals got personal deals from the American arms industry. In the 1990s, the Washington Post had published a story in which the then Army Chief Aslam Beg and ISI Chief Asad Durrani proposed to Nawaz Sharif to start their own narcotics business to fund the ‘jihad’ against India and in Afghanistan, as also other parts of the world. Although Nawaz Sharif claims he never signed on to this plan, there are reports that the Pakistan Army is involved in narcotics trafficking both to enrich the Generals and to have slush funds for other illegal and unconstitutional actions, including paying off death squads and assassins. 

The sordidness that exists in the Pakistan Army is no secret. And yet, the Army has painted itself as a knight in shining armour that is every ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of the country. But as the old saying goes: patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. This is hardly surprising considering that the State of Pakistan does not have an army; the Pakistan Army has a State. 

About the Author
Sergio Restelli is an Italian political advisor, author and geopolitical expert. He served in the Craxi government in the 1990's as the special assistant to the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Martelli and worked closely with anti-mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. Over the past decades he has been involved in peace building and diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. He has written for Geopolitica and several Italian online and print media. In 2020 his first fiction "Napoli sta bene" was published.
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