The arrest of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader and former Prime Minister Imran Khan for corruption should raise no eyebrows. Arrest or sacking of Prime Ministers for corruption has been routine in Pakistan as high corruption has virtually become an attribute of that high office.  

In fact, no Pakistani Prime Minister has completed his or her five-year term of office and the cause of removal has invariably been corruption on a humongous scale.

The periodic sacking and jailing of corrupt Prime Ministers, grabs eyeball at first glance, but have miserably failed to deliver results.

According to Transparency International, in 2022, Pakistan was 140th among 180 countries in the corruption index.

On May 9, Imran Khan was arrested in the Al Qadir Trust case. The government alleged that Imran and his wife Bushra had obtained land worth millions of dollars for their Al-Qadir University Trust from Malik Riaz, a major property tycoon, to build the educational institute. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) alleged that Imran had struck a deal with Riaz wherein he allegedly helped Riaz launder more than US$ 239 million.

On May 10, Imran was arrested in the Toshakhana case also. He had allegedly failed to disclose information on some expensive gifts presented to him, and had grabbed the proceeds from the sale of some of the gifts. Imran is said to have made US$ 36 million out of the misappropriation.

Imran admitted to selling four gifts but said he paid to the government a percentage of their value. But the government was not ready to let him off the hook.

Nawaz Sharif

The European Centre for South Asian Studies (ECSAS) has produced a document with details of Pakistan Prime Ministers’ corruption.

In 2016, Imran’s predecessor Nawaz Sharif was in hot water when the Panama Papers brought to light the his family’s ownership of properties in London, which had an unclear money trail. The Supreme Court disqualified Sharif from holding the Prime Minister’s post. In July 2017 he resigned.

This was not the first that Sharif was punished for corruption. His first government (over 1990-93) was terminated when the then President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, dismissed him for corruption. Although the Supreme Court overturned the dismissal, Army Chief Abdul Waheed Kakar forced him to resign. Governor Ishaq Khan was also forced to resign.

Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister again in 1997 but only to lose power in 1999 in a military coup led by Gen.Pervez Musharaff who had fallen out with him over the war with India over Kargil in Kashmir.

Musharaff’s military government pursued Sharif on the corruption front by filing charges of corruption, kidnapping, attempted murder, hijacking and terrorism. He got a seven-year sentence, a fine of US$ 25 million, and was barred from any political activity. He was later exiled to Saudi Arabia due to the intervention of friendly countries.

Benazir Bhutto

Western-educated Benazir Bhutto presented herself as the guardian of the deprived and underprivileged. But in her two terms as Prime Minister, she acquired wealth, assets and property worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to ECSAS, leaked papers comprising bank statements from various accounts in Dubai and Geneva; letters from senior officials promising payoffs, memoranda detailing meetings at which these “commissions” and “remunerations” were agreed on, and certificates incorporating the offshore companies used as fronts in the deals, had a devastating effect.

The documents uncovered the key role played by Western institutions, including leading banks in sealing the corrupt deals. Benazir’s government was dismissed in August 1990 by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on grounds of corruption.

However, Benazir came to power again in 1993 to be Prime Minister and Finance Minister. No having learnt any lessons from the past, she made her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, the Investment Minister in 1996. It did’nt take Zardari long to be dubbed “Mr.10%” for his commissions in Defense contracts; power plant projects; the privatization of State-owned industries; the award of broadcast licenses; the granting of an export monopoly for the country’s huge rice harvest; the purchase of planes for Pakistan International Airlines; the assignment of textile export quotas; the granting of oil and gas permits; authorizations to build sugar mills, and the sale of Government lands.

The ECSAS further says that in 1995, Dassault Aviation came to an agreement with Zardari and one of his associates for US$ 200 million for a US$ 4 billion for 32 Mirage 2000 fighter planes, to replace two squadrons of American F16s.

Further, a Middle East bullion dealer, Abdul Razzak Yaqub, allegedly deposited US$ 10 million into a Citibank account in Dubai operated by Zardari, after the Bhutto Government gave him a monopoly on gold imports.

The investigators’ inquiry into Benazir’s two terms in office unravelled a chain of luxury overseas properties under the name of her husband and other family members. Among these were extravagant apartments in London, a 355-acre estate, and a US$ 2.5 million country mansion in Normandy.

The ECSAS report says that Benazir and Zardari declared properties worth US$ 1.2 million in 1996 and never made the authorities aware of any foreign accounts or properties. Zardari declared no net assets at all in 1990, the year Benazir’s first term ended, and only US$ 402,000 in 1996.

The income Benazir declared was US$ 42,200 in 1996, with US$ 5,110 in tax. In two of her years as Prime Minister, 1993 and 1994, she paid no income tax at all. Zardari’s highest declared income was $13,100, also in 1996.

In November 1996, Benazir was dismissed by President Farooq Leghari and sentenced to five years in prison along with her husband.

On the 6th of August 2003, Swiss Judges found Benazir Bhutto and Zardari guilty of money laundering. They were given six-month suspended jail terms, fined US$ 50,000 each and were ordered to pay $11 million to the Pakistani government. However, the case was abandoned after President Musharraf withdrew the charges against the duo for political reasons.

Yousaf Raza Gillani

Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, a PTI member who became Prime Minister in 2008, was dismissed in 2012 because he kept defying the Supreme Court’s orders to reinstate corruption cases against then-President Asif Ali Zardari. His wife Benazir had been assassinated in December 2007.

Zardari was sentenced to five years of rigorous imprisonment by an accountability Court with a fine of 1 million Rupees. The court also barred Gillani from holding public office or obtaining any financial profits from any financial institutions for a period of 10 years.

Pakistani Military

No Pakistani military leader has been officially accused of corruption and tried in an open court. But the former army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and his family had earned US$ 47 million in questionable ways.

There is much scope for corruption in the Pakistan military because it is a “mega business conglomerate” with nearly US$ 23 billion in yearly revenue. The Pakistan military is involved in almost every business field—from real estate to fertilizer and cement manufacturing. More than a dozen public sector units, including the Water & Power Development Authority, National Logistics Cell, Frontier Works Organization and Special Communications Organization (SCO), are controlled by the Pakistan Army, the ECSAS says.

Pakistan military personnel are shareholders in these enterprises. They also get excellent retirement packages including land allotments.

But corrupt officers are quietly court martialled and given punishments other than imprisonment in order not to tarnish the image of the military, which has been a sacrosanct institution, the steel frame of Pakistan as it were.

ECSAS notes that in April 2016,, the then Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, sacked six army officers, including two high-ranking Generals, over allegations of corruption. But the dismissed Army officers, who were not tried for corruption, but for ‘financial irregularities’ and ‘misappropriation’ were only sent into early retirement and were deprived of some privileges, the ECSAS reports.


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