THE story of corruption in Pakistan could not have been told better. “Is it not our right to commit corruption?” One former federal minister had surprisingly put this terrifying question to an anchor on a live TV show a few years back during the time he held his post. The most concerning is the fact that this nation-debilitating situation remains unchanged.
The minister in question was not sharing pleasantries, nor was the question put by him part of any banter. He was in a seemingly serious mood and had some ‘very important’ explaining to do. He said, stating the state of affairs quite openly and fearlessly, that corruption had become a culture and that if one in a thousand was not committing corruption, then that person was actually suffering from a loss.
This approach highlights three fundamental problems with the prevailing system of weak governance. First, the functional failure of almost all state institutions. Second, the absence of will and the indifference on part of political parties to deal with the issue of corruption in any meaningful way. Third, the promotion of the culture of corruption by the so-called elite; including politicians and top ranks of the bureaucracy. Mushtaq Raisani is the most recent publicised example of bureaucratic corruption.
Accountability must begin at the top.
While the whole nation is suffering, except for the perpetrators and their families, from this ‘culture’, the ones who are bearing the brunt of this state of affairs are the disadvantaged majority who are deprived of the basic necessities of life.
Since Imran Khan raised the issue of corruption in his popular protests, the issue has attracted wide attention, resulting in the PTI leader’s non-stop popularity; a demonstration of his party’s unmatched street power and, most importantly, huge respect from the concerned, educated and right-thinking strata of society. Weary of this menace, thousands rallied behind Imran Khan and pinned their hopes on him to get rid of this menace.
Realising the continuously destructive impact of corruption, the then army chief Raheel Sharif went so far as to say that the war against terrorism could not bring peace and stability unless the “menace of corruption is uprooted”.
Given that the prevailing culture of corruption in society, and civil institutions in particular, can only be dealt with by either civilian governments, law-enforcement agencies or the courts of law, there was very little that the army could have done despite the chief’s warning.
On the other hand, our political parties remain completely uninterested in taking any action against corruption. Even the current government has failed to form any practical policies against corruption or to take any concrete steps towards strengthening the law-enforcement institutions.
There is another grave issue. Corruption in Pakistan appears to be on such a systemic and grand level that institutions are powerless and appear incapable of looking into corruption allegations against those with influence. This has fuelled the common perception that these institutions have become white elephants and any spending from the public purse is simply wasteful. The problem here is that no amount of action against the small fish is going to make any notable difference to uproot this evil.
Unfortunately, the iron hand the founder of Pakistan referred to in his notable quote “… bribery and corruption; that really is a poison … we must put that down with an iron hand”, is nowhere to be seen in the Pakistan of today. The public’s eyes inevitably turn to the courts of law to rid the system of this menace and allow this nation to progress in a meaningful way. At the end of the day, individuals do not matter in the lives of nation, no matter how authoritative they seem; it is the protection of collective welfare through established and strong institutions that matter and that should matter at any cost.
“When you fight corruption, it fights back”; due to its pervasiveness in the very infrastructure of society, it is bound to fight back with exceptional force in Pakistan at every level. We saw a few examples where even the most prestigious and strongest institution, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, was not spared the slights of unscrupulous politicians.
We need to take practical steps against corruption. Being satisfied with a few points up and down the international corruption scale will not help us change the reality that we are one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Accountability has to start at the top in each and every institution of the country.
Hunter S. Thompson, an American writer and journalist, stated in Songs of the Doomed: “we cannot expect people to have respect for law and order until we teach respect to those we have entrusted to enforce those laws.” There is a dire need to make that a reality in Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2017