Pakistan: Bringing Thieves to Justice

Pakistan's current accountability drive is necessary not only to put its economy on a healthier track and try to bring stolen money back but also to punish corruption and the corrupt and bring back justice into society.

Posted on 07/9/19
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek

Pakistan’s Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf party’s electoral victory in the last election has not been accepted by the political opposition parties in Pakistan. Calling the elections ‘rigged’ and the PM ‘selected’ is the political opposition’s way to undermine Imran Khan’s creditability and that of his government.  This despite the fact that no rigging has been proven. This simple gesture of acknowledging political reality as a matter of fair play is obviously too much to ask for in the democracy of our country that is run as a formality rather than a political system which should be designed to bring prosperity to the country and improve the lot of its people. Democracy in Pakistan has been used to suit a tiny ruling elite and neglect the majority of its population. For that purpose education the masses have been kept uneducated so that they won’t protest and demand a fair share in the produce. A split educational system – in the government sector non-existent or only rudimentary primary and secondary education for the poor and good but expensive education in the private sector for the elite – has been upheld and used over the decades to keep the power in the hands of the traditional landowning feudal and tribal elites of the country.

That elite used its power to amass wealth and lead a life of affluence instead of using it to develop the country into a prosperous nation. Instead of industrialization that would have needed educated and skilled workforce a consumer-oriented economy has been developed based on borrowed money. Encouraged also by international organizations like IMF and World Bank borrowing over the years suited our local elite just fine. Pakistan was turned into a consumer society before it learnt to truly produce. Large amounts of the borrowed money that was flowing into the country ended up in the pockets of the rulers. The staggering amount of debt accumulated has now reached a level where the debt service takes away such a big part of the budget that the funds required for necessary investment into the defense of the country, into the social sector like health care, education and poverty reduction and in the infrastructure, agriculture and industry is not possible and can be paid only with new loans and more debt.

The stolen and amassed money has been used by the elite to lead a luxurious life based on imported goods but a major amount has been taken out of the country to be parked in off-shore accounts and invested in property abroad. Run on borrowed money most of Pakistan citizens are poor, living at or below the poverty line, a tiny minority has become unbelievably rich with stolen money. Over the decades this plunder of the country has been going on unabated, the current government is trying to make an honest effort to change this vicious cycle of growing debt intertwined with growing corruption.

The current accountability drive is necessary not only in order to put the economy on a healthier track and try to bring stolen money back but also to punish corruption and the corrupt and bring back justice into society. One important case that has been under investigation for some time – and not only by the current government- is the detected scam about how stolen and untaxed money has been transferred out of the country with the help of fake accounts. Information regarding the fake accounts came to the fore when an intelligence agency picked up a prominent money changer in an unrelated case. In December 2015, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) began a discreet investigation into certain bank accounts through which multi-billion rupee transactions had been made. Investigators identified 29 accounts which received payments, totaling at least Rs35 billion. But this turned out to be only the tip of iceberg. In 2018 a joint investigation team was formed to quicken the pace of the dragging investigation. The JIT identified another 11,500 bank accounts and 924 account holders at the start of their investigation.

Why is it not surprising that at the very center of the investigation the names of the former President of Pakistan Asif Zardari and his family members have turned up. Companies M/s Landmarks and National Gases (Pvt) Limited (M/s NGS) were revealed in addition to already identified companies which were used to launder billions of rupees. M/s Landmarks is owned by Mr. Zardari, his sisters Faryal Talpur and Azra Pechuho in a partnership. Both companies were discovered from the hard disks which were recovered when Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) raided Khoski Sugar Mills owned by Omni Group. The Zardari family is the head of the Zardari tribe, a Sindh-Baloch tribe from the area of Nawabshah district where it owns thousands of acres of land and the people tilling it. By 1985 Zardari tribe is said to have consisted of around 70,000 people which by today may have doubled at least thus forming a strong power base that allowed the feudal Zardari family to extend their power into new spheres. The marriage into the Bhutto family, another feudal landowning family of Sindh was such a manoeuvre that opened new vistas to make money and bring it out of the country. To bring members of such a powerful family to court is in itself no small achievement.

The arrest of PML (N)’s Rana Sanaullah, ostensibly on drug running related charges, is significant.  He has been accused on many counts of murder mayhem, etc but without adequate proof.  Very much like Al Capone he tends to intimidate and scare witnesses, nobody dares open his (or her) mouth against him.  Recently some drug smugglers who were caught by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) claimed that they were doing it on his behest to “raise funds”.    It is believed that when the vehicle carrying Rana Sanaullah from Faisalabad to Lahore was intercepted it was found carrying a large amount of drugs.  Having escaped being incarcerated for murder, bribery and corruption, how he manages to escape this latest incident should be interesting.  For the Sharifs his being in the jug is a disaster, Rana Sanaullah was their “enforcer“ in their mafia-type political regime, how are they going to keep their MNAs and MPAs in line without his “Sword of Damocles” hanging over them? Worse, how many of their collaborators/associates in crime will run to NAB to become approvers now that their “enforcer-in-chief” is in for the long haul?

What the NAB and the courts are engaged in today is not a personal vendetta against the Zardaris but the need to stem corruption and money laundering that have destroyed the basis of Pakistan’s economy. Many more crooks have been free-loading the same way, they also have to be brought to justice. But this is not easy. To fight the extremely powerful structures upholding corruption, decisive measures are needed. One such measure could be to plug the leaking of money outflow by taking over the false accounts and firms by expropriating them. While the state has the obligation to protect honestly earned and taxed money it has no such obligation for ill-gotten assets. Thousands of the elite can be jailed for perjury, only than we will get our ill-gotten wealth back.  Only decisive steps can stop the fraud and bring justice back to Pakistan.

The writer is a defense and security analyst.

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