by Matiar Chowdhury in London;
Pakistan has just drawn a redline for the Social Media, and insulated the Armed Forces from so called “hatred” and “disrespectful” behaviour.
“Whosoever intentionally ridicules, brings into disrespect or defames the Armed Forces of Pakistan or a member thereof, he shall be guilty of an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine which may extend to five hundred thousand rupees, or with both”, says a bill tabled in Parliament on Sept 16.
The new law amends the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). At present, the PPC has no specific reference to the armed forces in matters of defamation; its Section 500 merely says “whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both”.
There is no official word on what prompted the Imran Khan government to rush through a new army-specific defamation law when it is focused on making laws tailor made to avoid the wrath of global watchdog on money laundering and terror financing.
It is possible that Láffaire Asim Bajwa provided the trigger.
A former spokesman of the army (2012 to 2016) who had headed the Southern Command & XII Corps, Bajwa is Chairman of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority. He is also the Special Assistant (SA) to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, a position which gives him a ministerial rank. He became fodder for the Facebook/Twitter warriors after a website run by an investigative journalist did an expose on Bajwa, and showed that his family’s enterprise expanded across several countries as he climbed the military hierarchy. Bajwa denied the charge, and Prime Minister rejected his resignation. The mainstream media blacked out the ‘story’ till the denials were in place.
Bajwa is not alone in facing corruption charges. Many army officers, past and present, have amassed corrupt wealth since the Pakistan Army presides over a multi-billion-dollar business empire. Corruption in Mil-Business is an open secret but rarely acknowledged like the then Amir of the Jamaat Islami (the fountainhead of political Islam in Pakistan) Qazi Husain Ahmed did once in 1998. “Corps Commanders are Crore Commanders”, he said.
As Ayesha Siddiqa, Islamabad-based political and defence analyst brings out in her magnum opus, “Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy”, Pakistan Army’s business wide ranging – land to stock market. Drug trade has become its cash cow since the days of the US sponsored Afghan jihad against the erstwhile Soviet Union. Since 1990s, with the approval of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the drug trade proceeds are also funding covert operations of the Army in Afghanistan, Myanmar and India.
Bulk of the opium produced in Afghanistan is converted into heroin in Pak laboratories and smuggled/ transported to consumption centres in Africa, Europe, and Southeast Asia besides the Indian sub-continent. Pakistani military intelligence controls the drug syndicates through the Afghan Taliban, and selected-loyalists on the political theatre as graphically brought out by the Centre for Asia-Africa Policy Research in recent months.
Now with its Sept 16th law that insulates the Army from any criticism whatsoever, the Imran Khan government has cleverly pre-empted any scrutiny of its Army’s indulgence with narcotics business, and narco-terrorism as a part of the country’s geo-strategic goals. This pursuit must become expensive for Pakistan if it is to fall in line with the global concerns with terror financing and money laundering.
The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which has put Pakistan on its grey list, must come to grips with the issue at its plenary session in October. Because, only on Sept 3, Imran Khan government had also decided to legalise production of cannabidiol and begin official exports of non-psychoactive hemp and other derivatives to international market.
Pressure should be mounted further, and not lessened, until Pakistan fully carries out all the measures needed to end its visible and not so visible money laundering and terror funding.