Pakistan in the Quagmire of Corruption
By Syed Arif Hussaini


Pakistan has been sinking deeper in recent years into the quagmire of corruption. The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) issued by Gen. Musharraf on October 5, 2007 provided the spurt to the quick spreading rot in the recent years.

It has perhaps been the biggest act of corruption in the history of Pakistan and, ironically, by an individual who had taken the reins of government primarily to end corruption and had actually succeeded in noticeably reducing it in the upper echelon of government. The “rip-off Ordinance”, the “black law” white-washed the numerous charges of corruption against his prime rival, Benazir, and her husband in order to seek their support for his bid for another term as President of the country. Emanating from selfish motives, it cost Musharraf his job, Benazir her life, and caused the nation to suffer Zardari, a monument to corruption and its brazenfaced patron.

No wonder, the Ordinance has been struck down by the Supreme Court. But, the damage had already been done. Zardari Government has defied the orders of the Court in the matter. A glaring example is of the conviction of Rehman Malik, Interior Minister, in the court and immediate pardon by the President.

In the name of democracy, an extortionist regime has been foisted on the people. Moderates call it a plutocracy –government of the rich by the rich for the rich. The cynics call the system a kleptocracy, literally ‘rule by thieves’. And, the burden of the song of the ruling elites, including the “friendly opposition”, is to protect the system at all cost!

Corruption, according to a UN study, is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that affects all countries. It undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and causes governmental instability. It discourages foreign direct investment; and, small businesses within the country often find it impossible to overcome the “start-up costs’ required because of corruption.

Pakistan’s economy, which had been recording 6-7 per cent annual growth, suddenly started going south with the advent of the present regime. Mismanagement and corruption have combined to take the economy down and add to the bitterness of the cup of the common man.

The Amnesty International, the premier world body keeping records of corruption, issued its 2010 corruption survey on December 9 to coincide with the Anti-Corruption Day. It says that 73 per cent of the population surveyed said that Pakistan government had been ineffective in fighting corruption, while 77 percent were of the view that the level of corruption had increased over the past three years. Pakistan police has been named as the most frequent recipient of bribes. Poorer people are twice as likely to pay bribes for basic services, such as utilities, medical services and education than wealthier people.

The head of the Transparency International has commented: ”Corruption is regressive tax. The marginalized and poor remain the most vulnerable to extortion”.

Another Chair of the organization had remarked earlier: “Political elite and their cronies continue to take kickbacks at every opportunity. Hand in glove with corrupt business people, they are trapping whole nations in poverty and hampering sustainable development.”

In Pakistan, corruption has become the norm and honesty but a joke. Plunder has acquired a seductive logic of its own. The leadership of the country finds it difficult to reconcile personal with national interest or to differentiate between personal and public funds.

The situation was quite different till the dismemberment of Pakistan in December 1971. Even during the rule of Z. A. Bhutto, corruption was not the norm. But, it did mark the beginning of major kickbacks in defense purchases. Bureaucratic corruption too acquired a justification during his period. His 1973 constitution did away with the chapter on Civil Services that had guaranteed security of service to civil servants. That chapter had formed part of all previous constitutions. By removing that, Mr. Bhutto placed the careers of senior civil servants at his personal pleasure. Summary dismissal of some terrorized them all. The ensuing insecurity and the enormous administrative and financial powers at their disposal tempted them to seek security in nest eggs acquired through illegal means. Since they knew the ropes, they guided the political bosses into ways and means of making money.

The nationalization of key industries and of banks opened innumerable new portals of corruption for the bureaucrats. They made a beeline for positions in these nationalized institutions to suck them dry. That is how the system of bad bank loans started. Corruption, nepotism and incompetence became the hallmark of the alliance between the politicians and the bureaucrats. The rule of law through institutions yielded to governance by individuals through cabals in which the bureaucrat became indistinguishable from the politicians.

Gen. Zia turned a blind eye to corruption in order to deflect any challenge to his position. The Afghan war brought a lot of foreign money and weapons into the country. Easy access to weapons led to what is known as the Klashnikov culture. A new breed of nova riche came to the surface, called drug barons. To avoid any hindrance in their operations, they readily greased the palms of the concerned officials, strengthening the threads of corruption in national fiber. The two stints each of Benazir and Nawaz Sharif had to be terminated on charges of corruption.

Gen. Musharraf, as already mentioned earlier, did take some steps to suppress corruption, but his lust for power made him compromise his position. First, he entered into a deal with the Nawaz family whereby its ill-gotten wealth was grabbed in return for the permission to all members of the family to go into exile in Saudi Arabia. Then came the NRO. It gave amnesty to Benazir from action in the 11 cases of corruption against her in the courts of Pakistan and some in foreign lands. Farooq Leghari, the President of the country handpicked by herself, had accused her of having looted $1.5 billion of public money. That makes the amnesty, under NRO, the biggest money laundering case in the annals of world corruption. It turned honesty into a joke and plunder into a facet of patriotism. The most deleterious effect of the amnesty law has been the opening of the doors of the country to the biggest crooks and scoundrels.

Making money is a pleasant pastime, Zardari had once remarked. Perhaps. But, considering the sky-high pile he has accumulated, he appears more like a sick person, a paranoid. He is unlikely to ever use that wealth. And, he lives in constant fear of violent death. Will the people of Pakistan remember him fondly after his demise?



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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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