Corruption

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Syed Kamran Hashmi

Imran Khan pulled a reasonably large crowd in Lahore last week against the alleged corruption of the Sharif family. It could be said that this was his last chance. The show had to be big enough to catch media’s attention. Why? Over the last few months, his performance to draw people in joining protests had dwindled. The rally in Karachi was a disaster, and before that, people in smaller cities did not show much interest either. Among party members, frustration and disappointment grew at a fast pace; some of them, in private meetings, even questioned his capability to lead. Mr Khan’s personal favourable ratings — something that he had always bragged about — in the opinion polls dropped too, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lost every by-election lately, including the ones the party had won before.
The people of Lahore under these circumstances rejuvenated the whole movement and reignited the fervour. From the stage in Raiwind, Khan appeared cheerful, satisfied, smiling and cracking jokes. And then quite expectantly, he did what he should always abstain from doing: reverting to indecorous language. Of course, I am going to omit those words since I think you and I both deserve better!
Moreover, Khan said: “We are giving you [Nawaz Sharif] time until Muharram to present yourself for accountability. Your case is open and shut. If Pakistan’s institutions do not act, we will not let you rule after Muharram.” In just a few sentences, Khan summed up his entire political philosophy by raising the two most widely discussed issues: corruption and accountability. In the media too, it seems as though Pakistan’s economy trails behind because of these menaces. Poverty, lack of education, absence of health facilities, religious extremism, power shortage, law and order, in short, everything can be attributed either to one or both of these issues.
At a glance, claims about financial irregularities and absence of an effective judicial system may explain why we stand so far behind. But is it true? The answer is not that hard. But it becomes very difficult to present as any challenge to the assertion is rejoined by a harsh personal attack: you are corrupt, a beneficiary of corruption, a stooge, a thug, an agent or an enemy of the state.
Sure, corruption cannot be condoned or exonerated, but I believe it is a symptom in itself of a deeper problem rather than being the cause of it. Even the injustice that pervades our society at every level and is unveiled as the root cause of problems by the PTI does not explain our incapacity to succeed. It is just a reflection of a bigger issue.
The emerging data suggests that nations get rich first and then they overcome the problem of corruption, not the other way round. For instance, India, our next door neighbour, stands far ahead of us in economy and defence even though corruption penetrates its every department and organisation. What is expected is that over the next couple of decades, India, as it grows richer, would be able to reduce corruption by strengthening its systems.
The second argument is the misconception about injustice. We have been led to believe by the mainstream media, although indirectly, that justice is something the state being so resourceful can deliver but opt not to because it is run by corrupt and selfish rulers. Once an honest person comes into power, he would align all evidence in order, present it to courts, obtain a verdict and send all criminal elements to jail, their assets frozen, their money channelled back to Pakistan. To be honest, I have not come across a more misleading assumption than this one. Philosophically, socially and politically, justice is hard to define and even harder to execute.
It requires an army of experts: prosecutors, investigators, lawyers, judges and parliamentarians (yes them too!). We at the present have got almost nothing. So, a person with the best of intentions cannot prove much in a court of law. Remember General Pervez Musharraf? He went after the Sharif brothers and Asif Ali Zardari for years (with vengeance) and proved nothing. For the last three and a half years, the PTI rules Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. How many verdicts has the PTI secured from the courts? Zero. It has though re-inducted the same members into the cabinet that it initially kicked out on charges of corruption. Was it malice or a media gimmick? Neither.
It was the failure of the entire system even when the best intentions were at work. The question is why. In my opinion, we fail the system much more than it fails us. It is our incapacity to believe in the democratic process, to trust politicians, and to let them work independently. The truth is a persistent state of paranoia has cast a spell on our judgement. We look away from parliament to solve the problems that it is supposed to resolve in the first place. Every time we get a chance to stand behind a non-elected actor to ‘clean up the system’ we support him. Every time we get an option to ditch the elected leader of the house, we deceive him. Every time someone sneaks into power through conspiracies and unconstitutional means, he gets our full mandate. That is why dictators like General Pervez Musharraf are interviewed on the mainstream media on a regular basis, and that is why he is daring enough to announce that we do not deserve democracy.