In a move that is being called both “unprecedented and bold,” the most powerful man in Pakistan—the country's chief of army staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif—has dismissed six army officers over allegations of corruption. The dismissals, which include a three-star general, are thought to be significant not only because they're unprecedented, but also because the discharged officers previously served in the Frontier Corps, a branch of the paramilitary forces that operate in the province of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
In a Facebook post, Pakistani journalist and Global Voices managing editor Sahar Habib Ghazi argued that the public needs to be told more about what led to General Sharif's decision:
We need to continue to question the most powerful people and institutions in Pakistan. No matter how scary it may seem. Looking forward to hearing what exactly these officers were involved in that led to their very public dismissal. That information is just as important. It needs to be public. Especially considering the officers were with Balochistan FC at some point, the institution responsible for law and order in Pakistan's largest and least developed province. A province where thousands of Baloch have gone missing. A province where human rights organizations have been documenting extrajudicial killings.
The announcement of the dismissals came just a day after General Sharif was quoted as saying, “The ongoing war against terrorism and extremism […] cannot bring enduring peace and stability, unless the menace of corruption is uprooted.”
The former director of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan tweeted:
Commendable that connection between (army) corruption & terrorism has been made by Gen Sharif himself -in the Balochistan context no less.
— Ali Dayan Hasan (@AliDayan) April 21, 2016
Reactions to General Sharif's comments have assumed he was responding to the release of the so-called “Panama Papers”—leaked accounting records that detail controversial offshore accounts belonging to influential people around the world, including Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's children. Politicians, analysts, and Internet users have cited Sharif's remarks as grounds to demand greater transparency and accountability from Pakistan's authorities.
‘It's All About the Politicians’
— Muhammad Zia Hussain (@RHero_NawazZero) April 20, 2016
#CorruptionMustEndForPeace We want a Peaceful, Progressive, Tolerant Pakistan. Out Zardari's Out Sharifs and all Corrupt Politicians.
— Siraj Khan (@siraj0009) April 20, 2016
Many of our politicians are accused of getting kickbacks r commisions in govt procurements r development projects #CorruptionMustEndForPeace
— Ashfaq Khan Khattak (@AshfaqkhanPTI) April 20, 2016
While many Internet users have welcomed Sharif's comments on “the menace of corruption,” some interpret his concerns as a signal that the military is meddling again in the nation's political affairs. Pakistan's history of dictatorships makes any political statements by high-ranking military officials—especially the chief of army staff—particularly alarming for many people.
On Twitter, concerns about the military overstepping its bounds have been particularly vocal:
In any other country #COAS would never give a political statement and would have been immediately sacked had he made one ….
— eshal mirza (@EshalMirza) April 19, 2016
Blogger Danish Zaidi also weighed in:
The connotation of #COAS ‘s statement is clearly political in nature. Including corruption in security apparatus is out of his mandate.
— Danish Zaidi (@syedmdz) April 19, 2016
Marvi Sirmed, a newspaper columnist and a prominent advocate of democratic reform, reacted on Twitter with her signature sarcasm:
Pak army zindabad. COAS was absolutely right in calling out on corruption. We should have martial law rather than this corrupt Jamhooriat.
— Marvi Sirmed (@marvisirmed) April 19, 2016
Its a political statement, army chief should keep a distance from such issues, beyond his job description & mandate https://t.co/yoZO2JtrnD
— Mush Rajpar (@MushRajpar) April 19, 2016
‘Across-the-Board Accountability, At Last?’
The news about the dismissals has provoked a broader debate on accountability across the board. Some Internet users have focused their reactions on Pakistan's prime minister, arguing that it now falls to him to take a strong stance against corruption within the government. Others online say the most important thing now is to provide greater transparency about the dismissals themselves.
Irum Azeem Farooque, a member in Pakistan's parliament, endorsed General Sharif's decision, saying the move should encourage more accountability from officials.
Army Leadership promised accountability process & he proved it.#RaheelSharif did great
This is the start & so this should continue
— Irum Azeem Farooque (@Irumf) April 21, 2016
A former director general of Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau (one of the country's many intelligence agencies) also chimed in:
Well done Gen Raheel Sharif/Pakistan Army for action against corrupt senior Army officers and setting an example for others to follow suit
— MasoodSharif Khattak (@MSharifKhattak) April 21, 2016
Setting aside her sarcasm for a moment, Marvi Sirmed joined others in calling for the dismissed officers to be tried in court:
— Marvi Sirmed (@marvisirmed) April 21, 2016
— M Ansari (@ansarim) April 21, 2016
What kind of, amount of corruption was done? Why no media trial?
— Fatah (@fatah_pak) April 21, 2016
Pakistan's mainstream media suggests the military began its inquiry into the officers after a car crash (involving a Ferrari) killed two army officials. According to unconfirmed reports, the investigation into the crash and questions the car's owner led to a larger probe into corruption more widely.
Filmmaker and journalist Hassan Zaidi weighed in on the reports:
The Ferrari story is tremendous though. So MI only found out about the corruption once the Lt Col died test driving and totalling the car?
— Hasan Zaidi (@hyzaidi) April 21, 2016
There is also some confusion about how many officers General Sharif actually dismissed on corruption charges. The media says it was either six or thirteen people, but reports are inconsistent.
— Hasan Zaidi (@hyzaidi) April 21, 2016
Meanwhile, television anchor Ejaz Haider complained that discovering corrupt officers in the ranks of the military seems like strange grounds for patting General Sharif on the back:
similarly, when the chief sacks officers who amassed ill-gotten money and gets #ThankYouRaheelSharif for that, something is amiss.
— EH (@ejazhaider) April 21, 2016
As the story develops, the public hopes to learn more about the investigation that led to the dismissals and the specific details of what corruption was uncovered. Meanwhile, Pakistan finds itself having a much-needed debate about more robust accountability and greater transparency from the country's political and military leaders.