Time to learn from the Indian army?

The Pakistani army's 'deny everything' policy for corruption does it more harm than good. Why not learn from India?

Saad Duraiz January 31, 2011
The verdict is out: a court martial comprising seven lieutenant generals of the Indian Army has found Lieutenant General P K Rath, (former 33 Corps Commander) guilty of involvement in the infamous Sukna land scam.

This will be the first time in the history of the Indian army that a serving lieutenant general has been court-martialled. All eyes are now on lieutenant general (retd) Avadesh Prakash’s court martial, the main accused in the scam.  Another lieutenant general and a major general are facing ‘administrative action’ in the same case.

Accountability: Indian style

Ever since the case came into light in 2008, I have been following it with much interest. Needless to say it wasn’t free of the politicking and nepotism inherent to South Asian culture. The previous Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor had been dragging his feet on the results of a court of inquiry (CoI), since Lt Gen (retd.) Prakash was one of his top military aides. It was only after the interference of the then Indian defence minister that General Kapoor finally caved in and ordered a court martial. The current Indian Army Chief VK Singh who had headed the CoI back then recommended court martial for all four officers. Upon General Kapoor’s inaction on the recommendation, the rift between the two men became public knowledge.

Incidentally, Gen Singh was the senior most lieutenant general of the Indian army and as per tradition (unlike ours) was the next in line to take over command of the second largest army in the world. The case was one of the primary challenges facing the new Indian army chief when he took over and the results are there for everyone to see. The Indian army has shown that it does not tolerate corruption amongst its ranks.

Liquor smugglers and ketchup colonels

Mind you, this is not the first time the Indian army has disciplined senior officers. In the past, generals have been dismissed on charges ranging from smuggling liquor to molestation. Of course, we still remember the ‘ketchup colonel’ who doused civilians with ketchup and submitted pictures of his fake ‘encounters’ with militants.

The highlight in all these cases was not that the officers were indicted and punished as per the law of the land but that all cases were brought into public attention. This is exactly why I have been able to follow them and write about them today. On its part, the Indian army did try to remain tight-lipped about some cases but the media and the government proved too strong to allow that.

When the army is 1.2 million in strength, it’s bound to recruit some unscrupulous men who will tend to harm the institution’s name for personal gain. Publicly announcing the censure of such officers sends a strong signal to both the military and the civil world. While it serves a strong reminder to those in uniform to keep in line, the civilians get reassurance that the institution is focused on maintaining professional integrity.

Lessons for the Pakistan army

We have never heard of a court martial of a general in our army - at least not on corruption charges.

Recently word went around that a senior officer was disciplined and sent home. In 2007, when a UN report alleged that Pakistani peacekeepers had ‘aided and abetted’ a gold smuggling racket, the concerned officer was ‘stripped of his rank’ according to a western newspaper. So, when the army does indeed maintain a strict disciplinary code and punishes those crossing the line, why not bring the cases to the public’s attention? Contrary to what the military believes ‘maintain silence’ and ‘deny everything’ policies do more harm than a public disclosure would. This lack of transparency only adds to the debate that it is above the law in Pakistan.

I may be too naive to understand the intricacies of Pakistan’s national security and how holding officers publically accountable may endanger it; but the way I see it, publically trying officers for crimes committed during service will herald it as a role-model for other institutions - something it strives so hard to be.

The recent case of the NLC scam will prove as a litmus test for the army’s stance on tolerating corruption and misuse of authority amongst its ranks. It will reassure the public that army officers, too, can be held accountable under law as well as send a stern signal to those in uniform to keep their temptations in check.
Saad Duraiz A banker with a deep interest in Pakistani politics and the military.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.