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The Curious Case of Pakistan Foreign Office’s $20 Million Armoured Vehicles

By Hassan Khan

In Pakistan’s 71 years history no ruling family has proven as adept at employing the national resources and national institutions for their personal benefit as the Sharif family. They have been, arguably, the shrewdest in using bureaucracy as a means to achieve their personal objectives. The most pressure in this regard has been absorbed by the PAS and PSP group officers, as evident from the several ongoing investigations by NAB, particularly, in the Punjab. So much so that the loyalists within the PAS, led by Fawad Hasan Fawad (the Secretary to the Prime Minister), started being termed as PAS (N). Similarly, the term ‘Punjab Police’ became a synonym for blind compliance to these rulers. But in recent years, even the Foreign Office has not been able to escape the ruling family’s ingress.

This political intervention has not been limited to the appointment of the House of Sharifs’ blue-eyed boys to key ambassadorial posts in Washington DC, London, The Hague, Doha and Riyadh, or former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s frequent official and private visits abroad on the Foreign Office’s budget, but actually went much beyond, and to a degree where it started being felt in the Foreign Office that an FSP (N) of sorts had actually come into being.

A huge scandal of misuse of the Foreign Office’s budgetary resources for Sharif family’s personal benefits, to the tune of twenty million dollars, has just come to light. Apparently, not satisfied with dozens of government owned luxury sedans at their disposal, both within the purview of the federal government and the Government of the Punjab, Sharif family members wanted brand new armoured Mercedes Benz and BMW vehicles for their use.

An ingenious way was swiftly discovered by the loyal bureaucrats within the so-called PAS (N) and FSP (N) to make it happen, without the matter coming to public view at all.

Reportedly, Fawad Hasan Fawad asked the Foreign Office to send a proposal for purchase of dozens of armoured Mercedes Benz and BMW cars for the ‘use of foreign dignitaries or state guests visiting Pakistan’.

Within the Foreign Office, the matter pertained to the Protocol Division which justified this massive and wasteful procurement, despite being fully aware that the vehicles were intended for private use of the Sharif family, rather than the stated purpose.

The actual need for such luxury armoured vehicles by the protocol division was probably not more than 7 to 8 vehicles. That too for occasional use only, since only a limited number of top level foreign dignitaries visit the country. However, the ruling family’s need was much greater. Hence, a highly exaggerated demand.

Accordingly, a summary in full compliance of the ‘royal’ wishes was sent by the Foreign Office to the PM Office for purchase of a huge fleet of 35 brand new, top of the line, luxury armoured vehicles to be bought in two batches during 2016 and 2017. A monetary allocation of 10.75 million dollars from the Foreign Office’s budget was made for the same in scarcely available foreign exchange resources. This massive order was pursued most diligently to ensure that the vehicles arrived as early as possible. For this purpose, a more compliant Chief of Protocol (CP) was brought in early 2016.

On top of this allocation of foreign exchange, customs duty exemptions for these cars were also managed, which cost the national exchequer the equivalent of another 10 million dollars. Thus, the total cost to the national exchequer for enhancing the level of luxury of personal transport for the Sharif family came close to 21 million dollars.

As soon as first batch of these fleet of 35 luxury armoured vehicles arrived in the Foreign Office, most of them were briskly dispatched to the former prime minister’s immediate, and extended family members in a hushed manner. A few leftovers were given to some favourite federal ministers.

Ironically, the same cars were being used by Sharif family members and their loyal ministers while frequently attending court hearings under NAB references in the past one year. Even Captain Safdar, the son in law, has been mercilessly using one of these vehicles, without any official position whatsoever.

The protocol division of the foreign office kept mum on this blatant violation of rules and procedures, not to mention the extortionate misuse of public funds, but rather continued providing a perfect cover by keeping the facade of the multi-million dollars vehicles being kept for the use of foreign dignitaries.

Naturally, these services were well rewarded subsequently. The diplomats, including the CP, who played a major role in this heist of public resources got dream foreign postings of their choice in complete disregard of merit or rules.

Besides the initial hefty cost of acquisition; the expenditure on maintenance, fuel charges, insurance etc. may have also accumulated to hundreds of millions of rupees. Will all those responsible for this massive misuse of public funds ever face accountability by relevant antigraft bodies such as NAB?

Now that the PMLN government is completing its term, there is a likelihood that these vehicles would finally be returned to the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Division. Although, most of these would definitely be found in surplus and will likely stay unused, unless, they’re once again handed over to some other unauthorised favourites.

As the interim government is set to take over shortly, it is hoped that a thorough investigation of this matter would be pursued by NAB on priority; so as to assign responsibility for this shameful scam, recover the cost borne by the public exchequer from the culprits and ensure that something like this never happens again.

The writer is a geopolitical analyst and an alumnus of the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, University of London. He can be reached at hassankhan440@gmail.com and tweets @mhassankhan06

Originally published here.

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