Decline in the political order, deteriorating economic conditions and expanding underground economies have created conditions for profitable activity outside the legal framework in Pakistan. Organized criminal groups having access to vast financial resources and running a parallel black economy have become an existential threat to the nation. We may survive being taken over by terrorists because of recent “constitutional activism” by the Pakistan Army, we are still in danger of being taken over by criminals.
“Organized Crime” is not confined to Pakistan alone, by infiltrating societies the world over it has also become an international security threat. The FBI describes this as “groups having formalized structure whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities, maintaining their position through actual or threatened violence, corrupting of public officials, graft, or extortion, and generally having a significant impact on the people in their locales, region, or the country as a whole”, this aptly describes our “democratic” government. The United Nations (UN) definition includes “the enrichment of those participating at the expense of the community and its members through ruthless disregard of any law, including offences against the person, and frequently in connection with political corruption”.
Consider Sindh’s Chief Minister (CM) recently taking issue with NAB and FIA targetting the corrupt in Sindh! The Rangers having brought peace to Karachi and peace of mind to its citizens, what motivates the geriatric CM to threaten to remove them from Karachi and Sindh for targetting corruption? The Federal Govt or the Supreme Court (SC) must take notice of those at the helm of governance openly and blatantly espousing that corruption is acceptable, otherwise extra-constitutional forces will then be forced to do what they have to. Bribery corrupts the legal system, prosecution is evaded by large-scale suborning of government officials to prevent enforcing their diktat. The capacity for malfeasance by the corrupt is thus force-multiplied.
The symbiotic relationship between organized crime and terrorism results from ineffective and/or corrupt governance. Often targets of extortion, robberies, threats and murder, security costs for businesses (especially physical protection, extra protection of cargo, and forced payments to gangsters for “protection,”) often consume more than 30% of profits of legitimate businesses (foreign and domestic). The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) “Partnership Against Crime Initiative” (PACI) considers this to be a prime factor discouraging investment from entering emerging markets.
Terrorists are motivated by ideology and criminals by greed, yet cooperation is growing for mutual benefit. Terrorist groups need arms and money, “Organized Crime” provides illegal trafficking of arms, drugs and human beings, as well as money laundering and smugglers operating across countries and regions. The Rangers and Coast Guards hauled up a boat smuggling around Rs. 6 billion (a fraction of the money being sent out of the country illegally), without organized crime providing the corrupt the means to smuggle their money abroad, how could they buy real estate in Dubai? When the country’s security is at stake, how are powerful mentors managing to ensure “Marquess of Queensbury” rules in farcical questioning of fashion model Ayyan Ali?
Running a parallel society organized crime threatens the stability of developing countries by laundering ill-gotten money into acceptable legal instruments and assets. The laundering of billions of dollars worsens the national debt problems as tax revenues to the exchequer are lost. Consider the hypocrisy of western regimes ignoring the money openly flowing from developing countries into real estate in cities like London and NY? The corrupt gain social respectability by purchasing the authority of government through a sham democracy, and even some corrupt men in uniform during military regimes. While the public remains largely unaware of the nexus between illegal underworld and the economics of parallel illegal markets, and their impact on society as a whole, concise information is not available to the superior judiciary. They badly need a “crash course” on the details of this evil nexus destroying our society.
Terrorist organizations can include common criminals with special skills or access to networks or criminal opportunities. With increased criminal activity replacing ideology, profit and greed are main motivation for operations of some terrorist groups. It may be impossible to destroy their logistical network without targetting criminal and terrorist networks known to collaborate in both domestic and international operations. The problem is that emulating terrorist groups, criminal groups engaged in illegal activity eg the drugs trade, can turn ideological over time. The lines are blurred between various militant groups as also between ideology-driven militants and common criminals.
Without every holder of public office declaring his (or her) real means of income and assets thereof, how are we expected to vote honest leaders into office? The potency of such criminals wielding the official authority of the State is very much on display in Pakistan. Much more attention needs to be paid to improving judicial proceedings being used by terrorists as their alternate refuge. Remedial measures include improving police and intelligence capability and capacity to locate and disrupt criminal networks. International cooperation on extradition laws need strengthening so that criminals cannot avoid arrest by fleeing the country.
External and internal obstacles contributing to the govt’s failure in implementing the National Action Plan (NAP) notwithstanding, the Supreme Court (SC) is not wrong about their lack of determined effort. With infiltration by organised crime endemic in the ranks of our rulers, do you really expect them to pay more than public lip-service to NAP? They will even frustrate those of their colleagues who really want to root out terrorism. Qaim Ali Shah’s statement lamenting any action against the corrupt highlights the problem of corrupt governance in stark relief. When concerned citizens or public officials point out wrongdoing, they are targeted with dire threats, consider the irony of the accuser being persecuted instead of the accused being prosecuted. Can western regimes absolve themselves of the responsibility of the heinous crimes committed in developing countries while they not openly harbour criminals knowing them to be such but give recognition to regimes with criminal trappings?
The SC is showing definite signs of activism about accountability. NAB was forced to submit a list of the high and mighty, instead of holding than accountable, the mega-scams were kept in frozen limbo. Justice Javed S Khawaja remarked, “such is the level of seriousness of the Federal and Provincial govts that they are now silent after formulating the National Action Plan (NAP).” When establishing the rule of law becomes the domain of those who live outside the rule of law, accountability becomes a figment of imagination allowing criminals to function in the name of justice. Justice then becomes a crime!
The writer is a leading defense analyst of Pakistan.