Under normal circumstances, General Raheel Sharif’s initiative of firing some military officers for alleged corruption (yes‘some’, because exact number is not known in the news leaked to media so far),would’ve been regarded as a positive step for cleaning an important state institution. It would have been particularly welcoming, because there is a little known tradition of a similar practice in the aforementioned institution that wields control over vast power and resources. But the timing and manner of leaking of the news inevitably linked to the ongoing political developments in the country.

Talking about the timing, it is hardly a coincidence that the action against some allegedly corrupt elements of the army was made public, after the departure of the former dictator General Musharraf from Pakistan. The retired general is an under trail, accused in a high treason case for abrogating the constitution. The facts of the case, which are well known, make it an open and shut case. He was (is) also accused in important murder cases. But despite the best efforts by the courts of the country, from Supreme Court of Pakistan to different Session Courts, he could not be put on trial. It is pretty obvious that success of Musharraf’s prosecution would have been the mother of all accountabilities. But, that was not to be and all of us know the reason why.

The second factor in the peculiar timing of the news leak is political controversy in the country related to the so called Panama Leaks.

Almost all opposition political parties agreed from day one that a high powered judicial commission led by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan conduct an inquiry into the nature of off shore accounts of Pakistani citizens that have surfaced in Panama leaks. But unfortunately the PML-N government created crises like situation by thoroughly mishandling the issue. Instead of moving in an honest and straightforward fashion to come clean on the allegations through a credible legal process, it resorted to political somersaults and blame games. By dithering on the question of judicial commission, it’s creating the impression that it is out to hide a smoking gun. One hopes that the government would have accepted the unanimous demand of the opposition parties by the time these lines are published. But the political excitement created by the news of COAS’s action against the alleged corrupt military officers and the aggressive campaign by some media cheer leaders showed that it was not a simple move to clear the deck. It is obviously aimed at increasing pressure on the civilian part for further deepening imbalance in civil military relations in the state system. The irony is that the ‘cheerleaders’, who go overboard in their campaigns for strengthening military’s hegemony over the system turn around after achieving their aim to taunt the civil government for ceding so much ground to the security establishment! It is only natural that such a political engineering starts a guessing game about the possibility of movement beyond a soft coup and the uncertainty created in the process is obviously poisonous for the political and socio-economic development of the country. It is not difficult to trace the failures in implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism and extremism to the diarchy imposed on the country’s state system by the civil military imbalance. Security establishment’s tacit support for “good Taliban” has made it impossible to eliminate terrorism in the country and establish peace in Afghanistan. It will be only fair to add that Punjab government’s policy of living in denial has also not helped in fighting against terror.

Be that as it may, it would be interesting to discuss the case for accountability of the Army purely on its merit, irrespective of its nexus with the political developments in the country. Incomplete media leakages about an obscure process against a few individuals will not suffice.

Present leadership of the armed forces can make history by taking some genuine steps in this direction. As we all know a huge chunk of our national resources go to military’s budget. While there are no two opinions about the need for maintaining a credible defense for the country there are obvious questions about transparency in the spending. Huge defense budget, finds mention in very few sentences in the country’s annual budget and there is no subsequent transparency and oversight in its spending. Debate on defense budget in the parliament (which is norm in democratic system all over the world), can be a good beginning towards establishing transparency and accountability in the armed forces. Similarly from time to time reports appear in media about financial wrongdoings in the affairs of the military controlled huge business networks like FWO, NLC and other institutions. Books and papers have been published where serious questions were raised regarding the propriety of certain aspects of those businesses, but most of the time it has remained a dialogue of the deaf. Even the Public Account Committee of the National Assembly has not been able to act on the audit paras, regarding military controlled business outfits.

Opening the said business empire to public scrutiny can be a commendable and meaningful step. In sync with this policy would be declaration of assets for public knowledge by the upper echelons of civil and military bureaucracy.

It goes without saying that every martial law regime, from Ayub Khan to Yahya, Zia and Musharraf regime, has been full of corruption, since they were not bound by any legal or judicial scripture. The war in Afghanistan, brought billions of dollars into the country and bulk of that money was spent by individuals, without any transparency. Many political leaders have also either been part of those regimes or were politically dry cleaned by them. In fact many aspects of the present malaise can be traced back to that era. It would be difficult to eliminate corruption from both civilian and military branches of the state, without looking into those massive embezzlements and misappropriations.

Last but not the least, there is a need for national consensus on creating a permanent constitutional body for conducting across the board accountability so that it can become a permanent feature of our governance system instead of being a pretext for political victimization and destabilization.