June issue 2016
The Boomerang effect: How is ehtesab faring in KPK?
The people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are great believers in holding their rulers accountable, particularly if they are proven or even perceived to be corrupt. This is evident from the results of general elections in recent years. In 2002, the electorate brought the six-party religio-political alliance, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) into power for the first time to give it a chance to rule, as these parties were largely untried and didn’t have any corruption scandal attached to their names. At the first opportunity though, in the 2008 general elections, the MMA was shown the door not only due to the divisions in its ranks but also on account of the belief that some of its ministers, mostly belonging to Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), had indulged in misuse of power and corruption.
The winners in the 2008 general elections were the secular-nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) and the progressive Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). For the next five years the two parties ruled the province as part of a fractious coalition and earned the reputation of being extraordinarily corrupt. In particular, the ANP disappointed its admirers and even its workers as its past leaders, Khan Abdul Wali Khan and his father, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, affectionately known as Bacha Khan, enjoyed a clean reputation. They were known for offering tremendous sacrifices for the cause of democracy, provincial autonomy and Pakhtun rights and couldn’t even imagine filling their coffers with ill-gotten money. The present party leadership was unable to retain that reputation and there are stories galore, some true and others imaginary, about the kind of corruption that went on during the ANP rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
One indication of the level of corruption in the ANP-led coalition government that lasted until 2013 was the arrest of Syed Masoom Shah, an aide to Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti, by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and his offer to pay it Rs. 250 million under a plea bargain for his release. During the course of the investigation, five kilos of gold and lots of cash hidden away by him was recovered. Though NAB was criticised for making the plea bargain deal with him and allowing his release on bail instead of keeping him in jail and investigating whatever else he may have stashed away, the fact that he agreed to pay Rs. 250 million showed the level of corruption that took place during the ANP-PPP government rule.
Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti’s brother Ameer Ghazan Khan and the latter’s brother-in-law Raza Ali Khan were also arrested along with another politician, Niaz Ali Shah, and some senior police officers, including former Inspector General of Police, Malik Naveed Khan, in the Rs. 2.03 billion arms procurement scandal. Ameer Ghazan was later acquitted while some of the other accused entered into a plea bargain or voluntarily returned the embezzled money to NAB to secure their release. Malik Naveed, however, is still undergoing trial in one of the biggest scandals in the province.
Some of the ANP and PPP leaders who served as ministers in their coalition government from 2008-2013 are facing investigation or trial on corruption charges. Two former PPP ministers, Liaqat Shabab and Mahmood Zeb Khan, were detained and charged with misuse of power and corruption. The former was held by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ehtesab Commission, which was set up by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led provincial government in 2014 to carry out accountability and the latter by the NAB. Liaqat Shabab is out on bail, but his trial is continuing.
NAB recently decided to investigate former education minister Sardar Hussain Babak for having assets beyond his known sources of income. Earlier, the provincial Ehtesab Commission tried to arrest former minister for social welfare Sitara Ayaz Khan, presently an ANP member of the Senate, on serious charges of corruption, but it failed to do so because her party aggressively came to her rescue and alleged that this was a case of political victimisation orchestrated by the ruling PTI. She also enjoyed some immunity as a senator because the Ehtesab Commission needed to seek permission of the Senate chairman before arresting her.
The PTI had campaigned for the 2013 general elections on the slogan of ‘change’ and good governance. Fed up with the corrupt practices of the ANP-PPP coalition government and believing in the promises made by Imran Khan, the voters showered the party’s candidates with votes and brought the PTI into power. However, fulfilling those promises has been a challenge in the last three years. One of the PTI’s shortcomings was the inexperience of its young lawmakers who had to learn on the job.
The PTI-led government faced its first setback in November 2013 when Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, on instructions from Imran Khan, suddenly sacked two ministers, Bakht Baidar Khan and Ibrar Hussain, belonging to Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party (QWP), on charges of corruption and misuse of power. The third QWP minister, Aftab Sherpao’s son Sikandar Sherpao, resigned in protest as the short-lived PTI-QWP alliance collapsed amidst a cacophony of serious allegations and counter-allegations. Imran Khan said there was no room for corrupt ministers, even if they belonged to an ally of his party in the provincial government. Sikandar Sherpao responded by claiming that QWP ministers were targeted to hide the corruption of PTI ministers. The two parties, however, made an about-turn 20 months later by reviving their alliance as the QWP joined the coalition government again and got three important posts in the cabinet. Politics had triumphed over principles because the PTI needed the QWP to strengthen its government and offset the increasing demands of its rather difficult coalition partner, the Jamaat-i-Islami. This dented the PTI’s reputation as it had been making tall promises of zero tolerance for corruption.
The provincial Ehtesab Commission ran into problems from the beginning, thanks to the delay in its formal notification. It then had to deal with weak legislation that allowed detained lawmakers and government officials to obtain bail from the Peshawar High Court. Some of its problems were self-inflicted, like the haste with which it made arrests without proper investigations against the accused and the subsequent dispute over the powers of its no-nonsense director general, Lt Gen (Retd) Hamid Khan, former Corps Commander Peshawar, who had accepted the job on the condition that there would not be any political interference in his work. His decision to arrest PTI minister Ziaullah Afridi and the father of party lawmaker Gul Sahib Khan alarmed the party. Though it showed that the PTI leadership wasn’t protecting its members, these arrests reinforced the impression that some of its ministers and lawmakers had become involved in corrupt practices. The level of concern among PTI MPAs increased when Chief Minister Pervez Khattak repeatedly said that the independent Ehtesab Commission could also arrest him if he was found involved in corruption. Lt Gen (Retd) Hamid Khan’s move to investigate senior bureaucrats and arrest some of them shocked the civil servants, who slowed down decision-making to avoid problems in the future and began consultations to blunt the powers of the Ehtesab Commission.
Finally, the assembly committee of MPAs from all political parties, with input from bureaucrats, drafted amendments in the Ehtesab Commission Act diluting its powers, particularly those of the director general, Lt Gen (Retd) Hamid Khan, who resigned in protest. Even the five commissioners of the Ehtesab Commission, whose powers were slightly increased, didn’t like the amendments as it rendered the Ehtesab Commission powerless. The process to appoint its new director general has been started, but the Ehtesab Commission has lost its powers and henceforth it cannot perform the kind of accountability that Imran Khan had envisioned and promised. In fact, it would be better to disband it if it cannot do any real accountability and let the NAB, duly empowered with years of experience in this kind of work, do the job. Sometimes there is duplication of work by the two organisations and some of the accused have been telling the courts that they are being investigated by both accountability bodies.
There is also the third accountability body, the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE), which became hyper-active under its recently transferred director, Ziaullah Khan Toru. He took on the high and the mighty, arresting bureaucrats much senior to him and eventually locking horns with the powerful Chief Secretary, Amjad Ali Khan. Toru has now gone to court to challenge his transfer order and has accused the chief secretary of mala fide intentions because he had started investigating his involvement in corrupt practices in the PTI’s flagship “Billion Tree Tsunami” project through award of contracts to his close relatives. Ziaullah Toru is also facing about 75 cases filed by government officials and contractors for forcibly and illegally making recoveries from them. He has been accused of overstepping his authority, though his courage in taking on powerful civil servants and others has won him praise as well. The public spat between the chief secretary and a much younger civil servant brought into sharp focus the goings-on in the PTI-ruled province and raised eyebrows.
The revelation by the Panama Papers that the politically and financially powerful Saifullah family from Lakki Marwat district in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa owned as many as 34 offshore companies, the highest number for any family in Pakistan, whetted the appetite for more information about the money stashed away abroad by such families belonging to the province. The business of hundi and hawala, the smuggling operations across the porous 2,500 km-long Pak-Afghan border and the thriving kidnapping for ransom and extortion activities have traditionally been carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the adjoining Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It remains to be seen if there would be a crackdown against enterprises involved in such illegal operations.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based senior journalist who covers events in the NWFP, FATA, Balochistan and Afghanistan. His work appears in the Pakistani and international media. He has also contributed chapters to books on the region.