Himalayan News Service

Islamabad, June 22:

A Pakistani ex-servicemen’s foundation, claiming to be a private entity but being run by the military, is accused in a major scam after the defence minister refused to appear before a parliamentary probe into the wrongdoing.

At issue is the sale through The Fauji Foundation of a Pakistani Army sugar mill for Rs 18 billion (Pakistani) against the highest bid of Rs 23 billion it received.

The foundation, established in 1954 with three mills and a capital base of Rs 18 million,

is estimated to have assets of Rs 27 billion.

According to reports published in Dawn, The Nation and The News, the defence ministry has admitted in parliament that the sale, as also other activities of the foundation, were being probed but defence minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal refused to appear before the Senate Standing Committee on Defence, prompting the opposition to move a privilege motion against him.

Iqbal was a member of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. He contested the 2002 general election as a candidate of the Pakistan People’s Party. But after the elections, Iqbal and a few others broke away to form the Pakistan People’s Party-Patriots and joined the government. Iqbal is a college friend of president Pervez Musharraf.

In response to a summons from the Senate committee, Iqbal took the line that the Fauji Foundation was a private body and the government could not speak in its name.

Countered Senator Farhatullah Babar of the Pakistan People’s Party-Parliamentarians, “If the foundation is a private entity why is its head a three-star serving general appointed by the general headquarters? Is there any other example of a serving military officer being posted to any private organisation?”

Contending that a committee comprising the defence secretary as chairman and six three-star generals of the army, navy and air force as members administered the foundation, Babar said the Economic Survey for 2004-05 had provided for one billion rupees to cover the losses of a fertilizer firm the foundation ran.