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Two Sharifs, two different rules?

January 25, 2017

Pakistan's former army chief, Raheel Sharif, is at the center of a controversy after documents leaked to the media purportedly showed he had been allocated a large tract of land in Lahore. DW examines.

Raheel Sharif und Premierminister Nawaz Sharif
Image: picture alliance/Photoshot

According to the media reports, Raheel Sharif was given the land worth 1.35 billion rupees (12 million euros) by the country's army without consulting the civilian government. 

Pakistan's "The News International" newspaper cited defense sources as saying there was nothing "unusual" about the allocation of the agricultural land to Raheel Sharif, as military commanders receive such perks after their retirement. 

But pro-democracy activists and groups have accused the South Asian country's powerful military of corruption and exceeding its constitutional boundaries. They also say the military has no regard for the rule of law.

Raheel Sharif's land controversy comes at a time when the country's civilian Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave a go-ahead to an investigation into a corruption scandal involving the brother of General Ashfaq Kayani, Raheel Sharif's predecessor.

But more significantly, PM Nawaz Sharif himself is facing a trial in the Supreme Court over his alleged links with offshore companies. Though the PM and his family deny any wrongdoing, there is a huge uproar in Pakistan, with opposition parties and the military's supporters demanding his resignation, claiming the premier evaded taxes through these firms.

With regard to these serious allegations against the elected premier, rights campaigners say that while corruption is rampant in both civilian and military spheres, only politicians have been punished by the courts; army generals usually get off scot-free.

"The corruption in the Pakistani military is as rampant as in any other state institution," Arif Jamal, a US-based Islamism and security analyst, told DW. "The army is involved in the smuggling of oil and narcotics through the borders of the western Baluchistan province. The military also makes money through its checkpoints in the restive province. All drivers have to bribe the officers to pass through these posts. These are just a few examples," Jamal added.

A media trial?

But Major General Ejaz Awan, a senior military official, told DW that the media is running a smear campaign against Raheel Sharif. He, however, did not deny the reports about Sharif's land allotment. "The media is exaggerating the whole thing. It is not a commercial property; it is agricultural land. All legal requirements were fulfilled for the allotment of the land. It is a routine affair. Even soldiers are given land upon their retirement," Awan said.

Shoaib Amjad, a retired army general, said a certain media group was deliberately trying to damage Raheel Sharif's reputation. Experts say he is probably referring to the Jang Group of Publications, which has acquired a reputation of being a harsh critic of the military in the past few years.

"The same group incorrectly reported that Saudi Arabia had appointed Raheel Sharif as head of the Arab coalition army, now it has come up with the land issue," Amjad told DW, adding that the former army chief's supporters would do their best to counter the "propaganda."

For many in Pakistan, General Sharif proved himself to be a competent commander, who not only acted against Islamist terrorists but was also resolute against the prevalent corruption in the country.

But some analysts believe he is not worthy of praise. "General Sharif will be remembered for positing the military as a state within a state more than many of the guys before him," analyst Ayesha Siddiqa told the AFP news agency. "The manner in which he pushed the envelope was unbelievable."

Economic and political monopoly

In the local media, Pakistan's ex-army chief Sharif was hailed as a "leader" who wanted to eradicate corruption in the country. During his time in office, the general insisted that the battle against terrorism and corruption must go hand in hand. In April last year, General Sharif dismissed six military officers, including two high-ranking generals, over allegations of corruption, thus proving that he was committed to his stance on financial irregularities.

It was an unprecedented move in the Islamic country, which was directly ruled by the military for a total of 35 years after the nation's independence. And the military still has the final say in matters related to defense, security and foreign policies.

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The dismissal of army officers - who were not tried for corruption, but were only sent into early retirement - came at a time when civilian politicians were facing huge criticism over their own corruption.

But critics of the army say that the dismissal of army officers does not sufficiently address the issue of the military's massive corruption, which usually goes unnoticed. The Pakistani military keeps a lion's share of the country's budget and is not answerable to the civilian government over its expenditures, they say. Rights activists also assert that the former army chief's removal of officers over corruption charges is proof that the military is not a "holy cow" as many in the country would like to believe.

Farooq Tariq, a leader of the socialist Awami Workers Party, points out that the Pakistani army is involved in all spheres of the economy. "It is running businesses all across the country, from marriage halls to factories, and from banks and insurance companies to dairy farms. Does the constitution allow this? Isn't it corruption as well?" questioned Tariq.

"We must not forget that while people were celebrating General Sharif's 'resolve against corruption,' his army was cracking down on poor farmers in the Punjab's Okara region, trying to dispose them of their lands. Hundreds of cases have been registered against military officers, yet the civilian administration has no authority to even interrogate them," Tariq told DW.

Additional reporting by Sattar Khan, DW's Islamabad correspondent.