Pakistani military sacks six top officers for graft

Word of the dismissals has burnished the image of Pakistan's army chief Raheel Sharif, who is already popular because of his strikes on militants in regions where his predecessors feared to go.
Word of the dismissals has burnished the image of Pakistan's army chief Raheel Sharif, who is already popular because of his strikes on militants in regions where his predecessors feared to go.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

General's action adds to pressure on Premier whose family's hidden wealth is in spotlight

ISLAMABAD • The Pakistani army's top commander has dismissed six senior officers, including a three- star general, for what domestic news accounts have described as smuggling and other corrupt acts.

The dismissals, which were confirmed by two military officials, added to the pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose family's hidden wealth has escalated into a political crisis.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the dismissals had not been formally announced, described them as forced retirements carried out by General Raheel Sharif.

They did not go into detail about the reasons. But Pakistani news media said the dismissed officers - a lieutenant-general, major-general, three brigadiers and a colonel - had been implicated in corruption, including smuggling.

It is not the first time that purges of senior army officials have been disclosed in this way, but the timing was striking given the Prime Minister's problems, which have flared over disclosures in the so-called Panama Papers of hidden wealth in offshore accounts.

Opposition politicians have demanded that the Premier resign or step aside until an investigation into possible financial misconduct is completed. Mr Sharif has denied wrongdoing and expressed a willingness to form a commission of inquiry, but how it will be conducted remains in dispute.

PM Sharif visited London last week, spawning rumours that he had fled the country. But he returned to Pakistan this week.

Political and military analysts said the dismissals in the military had weakened Mr Sharif indirectly.

Mr Cyril Almeida, an editor at Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper, said: "If the civilians aren't going to raise the bar themselves, then Gen Sharif has signalled that he'll help do it for everyone." He added: "The corruption issue has tapped into a vein of wide disgruntlement in Pakistan."

Word of the dismissals has further burnished the image of Gen Sharif, who is already very popular because of his counterstrikes on militants in regions where his predecessors feared to go.

Gen Sharif, who is not related to the Prime Minister, carried out an operation in North Waziristan, a long-time haven of Taleban militants, in 2014. This month, troops took action against militants in southern parts of Punjab province.

Military officials identified two of the dismissed officers as Lt-Gen Obaidullah Khan Khattak and Maj- Gen Ejaz Shahid. Both had served as inspectors-general of the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force, in the restive south-western Baluchistan province.

Mr Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Minister of Defence, and of Water and Power, said in an interview on Geo TV that he welcomed the dismissals but that opposition political parties had twisted the news to target the Prime Minister.

Mr Sharif himself reiterated in a statement on Thursday that he was determined to overcome the political challenge. "With God's grace our hands are clean," he said. "We have faced ruthless accountability in the past too, with success."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2016, with the headline 'Pakistani military sacks six top officers for graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe