Pakistan generals are set to lose their holy-cow status with the disclosure that two of the four-star generals, who had held the country in thrall with their swagger, are, indeed, no different from corrupt politicians.
Former Army chief General Pervez Musharraf and his chosen successor at the Army Headquarters, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, have both bank accounts in Switzerland, where leaders of many third-world countries including Pakistan are said to stash their ill-gotten wealth.
I tumbled upon this information accidentally as I was trying to find out how and why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who hails from a rich business family, has allowed himself to be embroiled in Panama-leaks controversy unearthed by intrepid international investigative journalists. The charge is that his family members had deposited money in shell companies located in Panama, and used that money to buy properties. It is also said that his daughter Maryam Nawaz owns properties in Peru and Singapore. Sharif critics have not proved thus far that these assets have been acquired with ill-gotten wealth.
Both Musharraf and Kayani are not born rich. As career soldiers, they are not in the same league as Nawaz when it comes to riches.
General Musharraf had seized power in 1999 by overthrowing Nawaz Sharif's second government. He had justified his takeover, claiming that Nawaz government was steeped in corruption. His rule lasted till 2008.
Kayani took over the army mantle in November 2007. He had humble background though the Kayani clan; claims ancestry from the Persian Kayanian dynasty.
His father was a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the Pak army--a fact that had endeared him to junior ranks. Kayani retired in November 2013, dispelling public perception that, like his mentor, he would like to be known as the helmsman of Pakistan. He did not run the show even from the barracks.
Now to the disclosure.
Musharraf and Kayani are holding separate accounts in Swiss bank, Julius Baer.
Musharraf's account is maintained by Star Trust Company. It had US $ 2 billion around the time he was briefly arrested in October 2013 for the operation he had ordered, as President in 2007, on Islamabad's famous Red Mosque that had left one cleric and more than 100 others dead. Presently the balance in the account is US $ 2 million, it is said. Well, it raises the question: why did he join the ranks of Third World leaders with secret bank accounts in Switzerland?
When he took over the reins in a bloodless coup, Musharraf had promised a clean-up. Throughout his innings, the garrulous general kept on reiterating the promise. But analysts aver that the level of corruption did not diminish throughout his time. The numbered Swiss account lends credence to the assertion.
Kayani has been maintaining a deafening silence ever since he had retired. But rumour mills in Islamabad, which churn out conspiracy theories by the dozen, were agog last November and December that he was put under house arrest and was slapped with a gag order.
This phase coincided with Army Chief General Raheel Sharif's decision to cancel the allotment of prime land he had managed for himself shortly before he was set to retire. This piece of land originally belonged to Army Selection and Recruitment Center. Located close to the Fortress Stadium, it is the most expensive defence area in Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan.
From January this year, Kayani has been in the headlines because of his brother Kamaran Kayani, who is also a retired army officer. The Army has ordered a probe into allegations that Kamran became "a millionaire and then billionaire during the extended tenure of his brother" at the helm of Army General Headquarters (GHQ).
Quoting sources, Weekly Corporate Ambassador said: "during Gen. Kayani's tenure as COAS, everyone in the army, politics and media knew about the fast-growing business of Kamran Kayani as he was getting big contracts from army, government and Defence Housing Authority (DHA) City. Kamaran is the main accused in the Pakistani Rupees 17-billion DHA scam.
A few days ago, Pakistan's anti-corruption watch dog, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), cleared Gen. Kayani from allegations of corruption since there was no evidence in writing to show that the general had asked for favours to his brother's enterprise. NAB has since issued orders for the arrest of Kamaran but he is abroad and thus remains beyond the long arm of Pakistani law enforcement agencies for the past couple of months.
Kayani's Swiss bank account is maintained by Kamaran's UAE-based firm, J&B Construction Company. "The balance in the account is US dollars 500-700 million", according to highly placed sources.
These sources have identified the account numbers of the two generals. While Musharraf's is given as 3861337, Kayani's is said to be 583106.
Celebrated Pakistani geo-strategist and commentator, Ayesha Siddiqa, has extensively written about Pakistan military's economic activities.
In her book "Military Inc" (published in 2007) she coined the term "Milbus" to refer to "military capital that is used for the personal benefit of the military fraternity, especially the officer cadre, but is neither recorded nor part of the defense budget." She has put the cost of this Milbus to about $20 billion.
But neither Ayesha Siddiqa nor any other commentator has even remotely hinted at Swiss bank accounts by the generals. For them too this disclosure may come as a rude shock.