Musharraf's First Multi-Million Dollar Telephone Scandal
Sept 8: Musharraf Government’s first multi-million dollar
scandal of awarding a lucrative cell phone contract to a Canadian
company in early 2000, ignoring the ever reliable Chinese friends,
became the main reason for a split between Musharraf and his honorable
and honest colleague, General Syed M. Amjad, who quit as Chairman
of the National Accountability Bureau in less than a year.
“This was an open-and-shut
case as all the evidence was there, but when (Gen) Amjad wanted
to move in and scuttle the contract, he was refrained from doing
so. The only man who had the power to do this was Musharraf himself,”
reveals a new book on Pakistan due to be released worldwide on
scandal was first reported by the South Asia Tribune
in its issue No 47 on June 22, 2003 and full documentary evidence
was also published, including a letter issued by the office of
the then Chief Executive General Musharraf ordering that the contract
be given to the company he favored and General Amjad objected
to Read the original SAT story with documents
latest confirmation comes in the book written by Hassan Abbas,
a former police officer and currently Research fellow at the Harvard
Law School and a PhD. candidate at the Fletcher School of Law
and Diplomacy, Tufts University. The book is titled Pakistan's
Drift Into Extremism: Allah, The Army, And America's War On Terror,
published by M.E. Sharpe.
The author, who was also associated
with NAB for some time and saw all these inner contradictions
of Musharraf’s accountability bureau, has thrown a new light
on how Musharraf started the accountability process to give credibility
to his illegal regime but soon became a victim of its own ambitions.
Abbas observes that NAB had an ominous
start to begin with. In its first two weeks of operations, it
cracked open a multimillion-dollar case of fraud and corruption.
Nortel, a Canadian telecommunications company, had unfairly been
handed a fat contract to build a mobile telephone network in Pakistan.
After General Amjad’s departure
and appointment of a new Chairman, the NAB was dead for all practical
purposes, Abbas says. A noble experiment had ended because those
who had initiated it did not have the moral stamina to carry it
are excerpts of his book’s chapter on NAB: “The
first decisive step that Musharraf took (after taking over in
October 1999) was on the domestic front - accountability of the
corrupt. With every change of government since the revival of
democracy in 1985, the cry for accountability had become louder
and louder, but as the problem was so widespread and the ramparts
of vested interest so invincible, no government dared go beyond
a judicious mixture of flimsy steps and lip service toward meeting
By the time Musharraf found himself
catapulted to the helm, he had no option but to bow to the overwhelming
sentiment of the people. Thus before the month of October 1999
was exhausted, he announced the formation of the National Accountability
Bureau (NAB), with Lieutenant General Syed Mohammad Amjad as its
And by a strange irony, it was fated
that the “Attock conspiracy” officers who had paid
a heavy price for attempting to conduct accountability twenty-five
years before would have a fair representation on the Bureau. Within
two days of the formation of the NAB, the services of Saeed Akhtar
Malik and Farouk Adam Khan of the Attock court martial fame were
General Amjad was the ideal and unanimous
choice of the senior ranks of the army to be the NAB chairman.
He was an officer of extraordinary diligence and exemplary character,
his name was a byword for integrity. Ayaz Amir, a leading Pakistani
journalist, while treating Musharraf’s choice of certain
cabinet members to scathing criticism, had this to say about Amjad:
“Chief [Musharraf] has redeemed himself by picking Lieutenant
General Amjad - and if anyone can make NAB work, it is Amjad,
and if he falters or fails, or even if the pace of his offensive
slackens, General Musharraf can say good-bye to the public goodwill.”
In the event, Musharraf’s credibility
and commitment were to be defined by the performance of the NAB,
the words of the journalist were to be prophetic.
From the survey of the NAB team,
one could only draw optimism. Farouk Adam had a courtly manner,
an impressive personality, and a unique ability to smile through
the tedium of a sixteen-hour workday.
A. Malik had much idealism and passion and also a flair for winning
the esteem of those working under him. He had written a freelance
column for a decade in a leading English-language newspaper of
the times (The Muslim), invariably exposing the corrupt
practices of the ruling elite.
The initial labors of the NAB were
dedicated to drawing up the NAB Ordinance to provide a legal framework
for this new organization. The central principle that dictated
the ordinance was the shifting of the onus of proof to the accused,
that is, that if the accused person could not reconcile his wealth,
earnings, expenses, and taxes that he had paid, he must be deemed
guilty of corruption.
framers of this ordinance were very conscious that this Draconian
law would be applied to a maximum of only four hundred of the
most corrupt in the land, and the principle that would determine
the qualification of these “selected few” would be
that of either an association with a great crime or having a big
name adorned perhaps by a theft not that big. Without such a law,
the NAB would essentially have been a nonstarter because of the
virtual nonexistence of investigative and prosecutorial resources.
Had this ordinance been judiciously used to attain the purpose
it was designed for, things would be much different today.
implement this agenda, Amjad was given full authority to select
the “targets,” though he regularly consulted the ISI
and a few legal experts while making vital decisions in this regard.
Amjad had a free hand to hold across-the-board and evenhanded
accountability from which no one was exempt, except the judiciary
and serving armed forces officials.
On November 17, 1999, the NAB moved
in for its first crop of arrests. Many of those arrested were
big names. There was great euphoria among the people because many
individuals who had always considered themselves beyond the reach
of law were now behind bars. Yet most of the arrests were made
on the charges of loan default, perhaps the easiest charge to
prove, but one that the NAB could be horrendously wrong about
because it was very difficult to tell an honest from a willful
With the first blood having been
drawn, the public appetite was whetted and they bayed for more.
Their clamor could have been ignored, but not that of the government,
whose credibility and performance had nothing but the achievements
of the NAB to show for itself.
The ordinary public was under the
impression that the ISI and other intelligence agencies had collected
enough data on corrupt elements when they were “monitoring”
the civilian governments during the 1990s, but when a few ISI
files were handed over to NAB officials, these were mostly speculative
and devoid of any sound material necessary to prove a case in
a court of law.
To quicken up things, General Amjad
hurriedly developed a core team to run the organization comprising
bankers, economists, lawyers, and a few from the intelligence
and police backgrounds. It was a combination never tried before,
the only handicap being a shortage of time to organize and deliver.
Around that time, a letter from Musharraf’s
office to the NAB (dated December 11, 1999) adequately reflects
the anxiety of the government and its dependence on the NAB to
shore up its credibility: “It has been reported with a great
concern that corrupt politicians are becoming bold and the press
is gradually becoming sympathetic to them. This trend must be
stopped and reversed.
Following steps are suggested: 1.
Move fast on all issues, 2. Expose the corrupt people very expeditiously,
3. Scoop on corruption on a daily basis.
Consequently, more people were arrested
based on their filthy reputations, but proof of their corruption
was lacking. The NAB could have gained a lot of credibility in
its initial days by prosecuting the ones who were already in custody,
but the special accountability courts were not in place yet as
selection of judges and establishing a new chain of courts and
developing a whole new infrastructure was taking time.
What the military hierarchy did not
realize was that there is a huge difference between deploying
a military unit to a new location and in establishing a law enforcement
institution that has to act within the parameters of law. To overcome
this shortage, dozens of retired ISI officials were inducted who
perhaps knew the art of interrogation well, but had very little
legal and investigative experience, which was the core requirement
in this case.
There was a reason behind the compulsion
that the new inductees had to be former ISI officials - the ISI
was providing the funds for this NAB expansion and they opted
to benefit their comrades in the process.
As if these problems were not enough
to hamper the NAB work, all of the arrested persons were kept
in different cities under the custody of respective military commands
where the local military officials and intelligence operatives
started investigating/interrogating the accused on their own.
Every single institution was trying
to spy on NAB, making the task further complicated. This was symbolic
of the general state of affairs in Pakistan.
Amjad and Farouk Adam, the two public
faces of the NAB, were now under immense pressure from the public,
the press, and the government. As they addressed the press, it
seemed to the military hierarchy that they were hogging the limelight,
and they became victims of gratuitous envy.
Shaukat Aziz, the finance minister,
who had Musharraf’s ear, was for blanket protection to businessmen
despite the fact that some of the latter, in cahoots with the
bankers, were the biggest crooks.
Amjad, on the other hand, was heading
toward making an example of those industrialists and businessmen
who had established their business empires through corrupt practices.
This was a risky business as big money was involved.
One of Amjad’s problems was
the subtle increase of government interference with his functioning.
As it was, NAB had an ominous start to begin with. In its first
two weeks of operations, it cracked open a multimillion-dollar
case of fraud and corruption. Nortel, a Canadian telecommunications
company, had unfairly been handed a fat contract to build a mobile
telephone network in Pakistan.
was an open-and-shut case as all the evidence was there, but when
Amjad wanted to move in and scuttle the contract, he was refrained
from doing so. The only man who had the power to do this was Musharraf
As the NAB moved along, two questions
were frequently asked of Amjad, that is, whether there were any
holy cows, and if the army generals involved in corruption would
also be arrested.
The government position was that
only serving army officers and the judiciary were exempt from
the NAB because both institutions had effective in-house correction
systems, but technically, retired armed forces officials were
not a part of this category.
When a journalist publicly asked
Amjad about press reports maintaining that corrupt military officials
alone had deposited $1billion in foreign banks from kickbacks
from weapons purchases, he shot back by saying: “We have
not been sitting on our butts as regards defense deals.”
Yet it was daily becoming clearer
that all the big names among the retired generals were beyond
the province of the NAB. The names of Generals Aslam Beg, Hamid
Gul, Zahid Ali Akbar, Talat Masood, Saeed Qadir, Farrukh Khan,
and Air Marshals Anwar Shamim and Abbas Khattak were discussed
more than once, but nothing came of these discussions.
Amjad was absolutely dedicated to
having them probed, but was restrained from doing so. The reputation
of Amjad, however, remained unimpaired. By releasing Khawaja Asif
and Mr. Nawaz Tiwana, a leading politician and a bureaucrat, respectively,
from detention and personally apologizing to them for wrongful
arrest by the NAB, Amjad had set a new precedent in Pakistan by
accepting that the mighty are often fallible. This only enhanced
his stature, and the envy of his peers.
In another high-profile case, a leading
politician from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) known
for his corrupt practices threatened NAB officials during his
interrogation by saying that he was a CIA agent, and that political
instability would be created in the country if he were not released
Amjad responded by making things
harsher for him and by appointing more investigators to probe
his case. The politician was ultimately convicted.
One of the brightest experiences
of the NAB was the performance of its Central Investigation Team
(CIT). General Amjad had allowed Saeed Malik to handpick a team
of officers to give the NAB a limited in-house investigative capability.
A former commander of army’s SSG, Brigadier Mohammad Nazir,
an officer of unimpeachable integrity, was selected to head the
CIT. The performance of the 12-member CIT team was outstanding
on many counts.
For instance, in a mere five months
a three-man cell of the CIT (Lieutenant Colonel Riazuddin, Nadir
Imtiaz Khan, and Major Taimur Shah) recovered or saved for the
government of Pakistan Rs 3 billion (around US$500 million). But
unfortunately, the most outstanding member of the team Lieutenant
Colonel Obaidullah, a former ISI official, tragically died of
a massive heart attack shortly after being wrongly accused of
“mishandling” a case by a very senior NAB official.
The saddest commentary on Musharraf’s
much-vaunted commitment to the cause of accountability is that
each member of this team of rare officers was hounded out of the
NAB soon after Amjad’s departure from the institution.
Their only handicap was that not
one of them was prone to entertaining any adverse dictates. And
so ended a heroic chapter of the war against crime by a handful
of officers in a corrupt environment.
Reportedly, Amjad had asked to be
relieved of his duties more than once. He was not one to take
government partiality lying down. He left the NAB at the end of
change of command, in the words of Mohammad Malick’s commentary
in Dawn, was “a clear sign of NAB’s tailored,
if not changed, priorities.” No one then knew who the real
“tailor” might be, but there was an acknowledgment
that “Amjad remained a very fair accountability chief.”
Tariq Ali in his book The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades,
Jihadis, and Modernity, was much more perceptive when he
observed that Amjad was ready to push through, but “Musharraf
balked at the scale of the enterprise.”
The new chairman was General Khalid
Maqbool, whose reputation was no match for Amjad’s. The
NAB was dead for all practical purposes. A noble experiment had
ended because those who had initiated it did not have the moral
stamina to carry it through. But it would not be they who would
pay the price for this failure. This would be paid once more by
those who have always paid it, the people of Pakistan.
Musharraf had made a clear choice
— he would compromise with those politicians who were ready
to side with him. He had given in to the building pressure from
various sectors that wanted the regime to behave “normally”
and not as a revolutionary one.
This was the dilemma Musharraf faced
— the masses were looking for a Messiah in him, whereas
the political and military elite wanted the status quo to continue.
Musharraf was still swinging in between.
I cannot help recalling one of the
conversations between Saeed A. Malik and (late) General Ghulam
Ahmed (Musharraf’s Chief of Staff) - Malik was strongly
asserting that everything was “do-able” provided the
Musharraf government had the will to do it, and General GA stunned
the audience when he said: “But, sir, first they [Musharraf,
General Mahmood, and General Aziz] will have to get out of the
cage of Kargil, otherwise all their efforts will be reactive.”
he was not being disloyal. He was merely delivering an analytical
conclusion, and his tone and tenor were entirely reflective of
this. No one in Musharraf’s government could have mustered
the courage to say this."