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Whiff of corruption as ‘Gang of Four’ generals from Zia’s Pakistan linked to Swiss bank accounts

Documents leaked to Organised Crime & Corruption Reporting Project, a journalist consortium, raise questions on whether the generals profited from Afghan jihad & Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

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New Delhi: Two members of a so-called ‘Gang of Four’ generals, who wielded enormous power under Pakistani military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, funnelled millions of dollars into personal accounts held in a Swiss bank, documents leaked to an international consortium of journalists have revealed. 

The documents, leaked to the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), raise questions on whether the generals personally profited from the Afghan jihad and Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

General Zia’s ‘Gang of Four’ included himself and General Rahimuddin Khan, who are not named in the documents. The other two are General Akhtar Abdul Rahman Khan and Lieutenant General Zahid Ali Akbar, who are together revealed to have held over 29 million Swiss Francs (CHf, 1 CHf = Rs 81.04) in the secret accounts, according to the documents.

The four were closely related through marriage, as well as common origins in the Jalandhar region of Punjab. The sons of Gen. Akhtar and Gen. Zia are married to the daughters of Gen. Rahimuddin. Another of Gen. Akhtar’s sons is married to a daughter of Lt Gen. Zahid.

Also read: 70 years since failed Rawalpindi Conspiracy — Pakistan’s history dotted with successful coups

Gen. Akhtar, mastermind of the Afghan jihad

Gen. Akhtar, who led the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate from 1979 to 1987 — a record tenure, through which he planned and executed the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan — opened an account in 1985, which held over CHf 9 million in 2010, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project said.

Born in Rampur, Punjab, in 1924, Gen. Akhtar lost his father Abdul Rehman Khan — an eminent physician — when he was less than four years old, and was brought up in the extended family.

According to the documents, the General’s sons, Harun, Akbar and Ghazi — all of whom are Canadian nationals — held a separate joint account that was opened in 1986, and which held over CHf 5 million in 2003.

Lt Gen. Zahid supervised Kahuta, faced corruption probe

Lieutenant General Zahid, who, as a Brigadier, was handpicked by Zia to supervise Pakistan’s nuclear facility in Kahuta — and later served as director general of the Engineering Research Laboratories nuclear research institution — is also named in the leaked documents.

Zahid later went on to head the Water & Power Development Authority and the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Lt Gen. Zahid, the documents state, held CHf 15,535,435 in a Credit Suisse account opened in 2004, and closed in 2006 — just as new regulations eroding Switzerland’s famed banking secrecy laws began to come into force.

Earlier, Lt Gen. Zahid was indicted in a corruption investigation instituted under another military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf. 

The anti-corruption National Accountability Bureau alleged he controlled 77 bank accounts and several illegitimately acquired properties, although the Credit Suisse account was not detected by the investigators.

Following a plea-bargain agreement in 2016, Lt Gen. Zahid — then 91 years old — was allowed to pay a fine of Pakistan Rupees 200 million, a small fraction of the funds in the Credit Suisse account alone, in return for the termination of all legal proceedings against him. 

The general had briefly been held in Croatia because of a warrant executed in Pakistan, before being repatriated to the United Kingdom, of which he is a citizen.

Lt Gen. Zahid’s grandfather, a Pakistani source familiar with the family told ThePrint, was commissioned in the 7 Haryana Lancers regiment, serving for a time as aide-de-camp to the Viceroy of India. The general’s father was a well-known lawyer in Jalandhar, who moved to Pakistan after Partition.

Corruption of the Afghan jihad

Long-standing allegations that the Pakistan Army profited from the Afghan jihad have gathered momentum from the revelations. 

In order to ensure it did not enter into direct confrontation with the erstwhile Soviet Union, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) routed its funding and supplies through Pakistan. A five-member committee, including Gen. Akhtar and Gen. Rahimuddin, allocated these resources.

“The CIA’s largest covert action since Vietnam,” a colourfully-worded Washington Post report from 1987 records, “has made rich sugar-daddies out of Pakistan’s generals”.

In his memoirs, Brigadier Muhammad Yousaf of Pakistan Army has alleged that Gen. Akhtar was removed from the ISI and promoted to the ceremonial position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee because of pressure from the CIA. 

The CIA, he wrote, believed that the ISI chief was routing funds to more fundamentalist factions of the Afghan mujahideen. In addition, Brig. Yousaf claimed, General Zia wanted to deny him credit for the Afghan victory.

The revelations on Gen. Akhtar’s secret Credit Suisse accounts, though, have strengthened speculation that the pressure from the United States was also linked to disquiet over misappropriation of funds.

Islamabad’s nuclear-bomb programme, similarly, was shrouded in opaque financial transactions, as the country scrambled to find suppliers for critical equipment on the grey market. 

Expert Klaus Peter-Ricke, for example, has shown how lucrative contracts were handed out to German companies in return for evading legal restrictions on nuclear-related technology.

Nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, Zahid’s boss, was himself indicted under Gen. Musharraf for selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, and died in disgrace.

‘Army’s hands are not clean’

“The Pakistan Army has long claimed that politicians are corrupt, but it is not,” noted Ayesha Siddiqa, who has conducted path-breaking scholarly work on the country’s military-held businesses. 

“These documents establish, if there is any doubt, that its own hands are not clean,” she said. Even though the documents did not establish the source of the funding, she added, the accounts were not disclosed to authorities.

The documents also show that prominent Pakistani business families and politicians held accounts at Credit Suisse.

A source close to the OCCRP said there some 40 individuals of Indian origin also listed in the leaked documents, but most live overseas, and have no role of public significance.

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)

Also read: In Pakistan, censorship cannot continue, future belongs to democracy


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