Two army officers lost their lives in a car accident — one a lieutenant colonel, the other a major. They were, as daily Dawn reported from Quetta on November 27, 2014, “on their way to Loralai to finalise arrangements for a passing-out parade.” The newspaper said “a truck rammed into their vehicle” near Kuchlak on the highway that links Quetta with Chaman.
Shakeel Ahmed, the lieutenant colonel, can be seen in a Twitter photo wearing a black waistcoat and a white shalwar kameez, smiling warmly to people lined up at a reception. In another photo, he is looking thoughtfully into the camera as his two daughters peer over his shoulders. Yasir Sultan, the major, gets mentioned in a Facebook post that carries two photos of a damaged sports car. The caption reads “Major Yasir Sultan’s car at the spot of [the] accident”. In another Facebook photo, a bespectacled Sultan is holding his little daughter as both pose for the camera.
The photos raise some disconcerting questions. Why would two officers travel on an official assignment in a shiny two-seater sports vehicle? Why were they on the road late in the evening in an area considered unsafe and, that too, for a journey that still required them to travel at least 200 kilometres more? If they died in the line of duty, why did the newspaper attribute its report to “official sources”? Why did it not cite an official press release from the Frontier Corps (FC) for which the two officers were working, or the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) that usually briefs the media on military-related incidents and developments?
“Official sources” became active again on April 21, 2016, when print and television media started buzzing with reports of 12 army officers getting sacked for corruption. These officials reportedly included a lieutenant general, a major general and several brigadiers and colonels. But, in only a day, the number of brigadiers and colonels was reduced to four — by “official” sources. There was no official statement from the army’s General Headquarters; no press release from the ISPR — not even so much as a tweet, which has become the chosen mode of communication for the ISPR chief.
Next: the speculation. The sacked officers were involved in helping smugglers. Lieutenant General Obaidullah Khattak, who worked as the Quetta Corps Commander after working as the Inspector General of the FC, is said to have made money by letting smuggling happen under his watch. His successor as the FC Inspector General, Major General Ejaz Shahid, is alleged to have had a sports car smuggled for his son. The two officers who died in the accident near Kuchlak in November 2014 were reportedly test driving the same car for their boss’ son.
Then: the adulation. What a fair-minded, honest Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif is! He didn’t pause for a moment before sacking such senior army officials after he found them to be involved in corruption. He is the righteous commander-in-chief who can go to any lengths to rid the army of the few bad eggs muddying the image of Pak Fauj.
There was no serious conversation about the registration of a case against Shahid and his colleagues for smuggling a car without paying taxes and import duties. No mention of the source of money with which the son of a two-star general could afford to buy a high-end racing vehicle. And, most worryingly, not even a hint of an inquiry into how and why the two dead officers were driving the car they were riding. Is a mere sacking sufficient punishment for this extremely shocking tragedy? No one even ventures a comment.
Without wanting to turn all this into the usual military-versus-civilian argument, let us admit that the pots and the kettles are all black here. Islands of purity cannot survive for long if the entire sea around them is polluted and poisoned and, as the details above as well as the National Logistic Cell corruption case have shown, the army is not that kind of an island.
Crime and punishment cannot be made proportionate without transparency which, in turn, is a function of something called honesty and integrity — conspicuous by their absence amidst us. If we still think that a few good men can put us right, we can deceive ourselves with the #ThankYouRaheelSharif but if we are serious about ridding ourselves of the disease that has eaten into our souls, we need something bigger, better and broader. A commission for truth and justice that forces everybody to stand down from their perches to become accountable and answerable for all their acts of omission and commission? Worth a shot. The other option is a collective race down the moral abyss that is staring us in the face — the uniformed and the civilian alike.
This was originally published in the Herald's April 2016 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.