Guest Post: Pakistan’s Culture of Corruption

Zagham H. Chaudry, a student at Temple Law School, contributes today’s guest post:

Pakistan is the world’s fifth-most populous country, a regional power in a strategic location with a powerful military, and nuclear weapons. Yet Pakistan is far from reaching its full potential, and corruption is a main reason for that. Corruption in Pakistan is well-known and well-documented, and extends from the top (the Prime Minister) all the way down to the bottom (the local bazaar). Talk to random Pakistanis on the street and chances are they’ll tell you how corruption has affected them—how they couldn’t get jobs in the police or be admitted into good universities because they refused to pay bribes. Corruption has become part of the culture in Pakistan. It has become engrained in the beliefs, attitudes, and customs of the Pakistani people.

The corrupt (often wealthy and often politicians) in Pakistan have used their political influence to manipulate the laws, policies, and rules of procedure of the country to sustain their power, status, and wealth, causing serious and extensive harm to Pakistani society which has mostly gone unpunished. This sort of corruption eats away at state institutions like termites eat wood. Additionally, according to Transparency International, there is a “[strong] connection between corruption and inequality, which feed off each other to create a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power in society, and unequal distribution of wealth.” One has to look no further than the lifestyle of the corrupt ruling class in Pakistan as compared to the rest of the country to see the connection between corruption and inequality. The corrupt live in expensive bungalows in gated communities, drive fancy cars, have dozens of servants and security, and live luxurious lives—while four out of ten Pakistanis continue to live in poverty.

In a society where so few have so much and so many have so little, and where politically-motivated hiring, patronage, and nepotism reign supreme, you end up with a situation where becoming part of the corrupt system seems to be the only way out of poverty for millions of disadvantaged and deprived people. And in this way, subcultures of corruption begin to take root in the lower levels of society which all conform to the overall culture of corruption on the highest levels (e.g. federal and provincial governments). Consider the following stylized example, which despite its simplicity accurately captures how business often gets done in Pakistan:

Businessman “X” wants to build a factory in town “B,” but needs a permit to do so. Politician “C” is in charge of permits. C tells X he will grant the permit if X uses his money and influence to support C and his political party in the next election. X agrees, and donates money to C and his party. X is granted the permit and hires workers for his factory. Fearing that he has to keep C pleased or the permit may be revoked, X tells the workers they must support and vote for C’s political party in the upcoming election or they will be fired. The workers have no choice but to do so because they have bills to pay and jobs are scarce.

In this example, even though neither X nor the workers may have originally intended to be part of the corrupt system, they’re forced to do so if they want to get ahead. This example also demonstrates how corruption, if left unchecked, can lodge itself in the very arteries of a society and become very difficult to remove without systematic reform. A corrupt society is worse than anarchy because in anarchy, there is disorder due to the absence of authority whereas in a corrupt society, there is disorder despite the presence of authority.

Furthermore, because the people who have the power to end the corruption are the ones who do it, reform can take years even decades. This is why countries which are towards the bottom of the Corruption Perceptions Index tend to stay there. This is not to say that reform is not possible. It certainly is and countries have done it in the past. However, as Vito Tanzi put it 20 years ago, “the fight against corruption cannot be independent from the reform of the state.”

The fight against corruption has begun in Pakistan which is in no small part due to Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) or Movement for Justice Party, which has become Pakistan’s second-largest political party. Khan was the petitioner in the recent Panama Papers case in which all five justices of the Supreme Court unanimously removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from power due to his family’s corruption. The decision also effectively disqualified Sharif from holding public office which meant that he also had to step down as leader of his party. The case was the most publicized in Pakistan’s history and the decision is a very important step in the right direction in Pakistan’s fight against corruption. However, as we saw a few weeks after the decision, Sharif’s party changed the law to allow politicians like Sharif to continue to be leaders of political parties which shows that the system of corruption is still in place. The fight against corruption in Pakistan will be a long and arduous one but if Pakistan is to prosper, it is a necessary one.

5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Pakistan’s Culture of Corruption

  1. There is a saying, “you can take away corruption from politics but you cannot take away politics from corruption”. The problem mentioned here is not just about Pakistan, it is happening every where. It is a matter of degree.

    • It may be added a little more that the third-world countries like Pakistan are mostly public corruption pron which is promoted and patronized by the West leaded by USA which is the most corrupt country that recently researched out by FORBES, and Paradise Paper of ICIJ.

    • That’s a good observation – this paper can be applied to dozens of developing countries that have rampant corruption. The patterns and effects are similar.

  2. It is ironic that Nawaz Sharif has now been disqualified because of the Panama Papers. That he was corrupt, has actually been known long before that. The Panama Papers have only been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto took turns as Prime Ministers (and to enrich themselves) in the ’90s. When Nawaz Sharif took over from Benazir Bhutto in 1997, corruption proceedings were initiated against her and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, aka Mr 10%, who profited from the office of his spouse to amass a fortune that made him one of the richest men of the country.

    Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power in 1999 by Pervez Musharaff’s military coup. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007 but her party won the elections in 2008 and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, now a widower, became, not Prime Minister, but President. That was the end of the multi-country corruption case initiated against him and his wife.

    As they say, the fish stinks from the head

  3. “Businessman “X” wants to build a factory in town “B,” but needs a permit to do so. Politician “C” is in charge of permits. C tells X he will grant the permit if X…….The workers have no choice but to do so because they have bills to pay and jobs are scarce.”
    – It is very general concept of corruption in political democracy and capital development. Fortunately, the West- countries are leading this skill very programmed way on Pakistan-like countries, or next world that accumulates wealth to the so-called NON-CORRUPTED OR MINIMUM CORRUPT AMERICAN-WORLD.
    It is the most unfortunate that Matthew Stephenson and other anti-corrupt world’s focused personals are looking this matter in opposite direction to complicate the matter only.

    We may consider the Anti-corruption guide line is a corporate motivation, nothing else.

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