Scott Lynch suggested the best, never-fail, universal apology: “I was badly misinformed, I deeply regret the error, go fret yourself with this bag of money.” What a wonderful way to show regret! Acceptable to nearly everybody in Pakistan. It is not only for us in Pakistan, it applies everywhere in all parts of the world because corruption exists everywhere. The causes might differ because of need, greed, culture, tempting opportunities or anything else, but what matters is the way it influences us because of the way we deal with it, or not deal with it. And that influence gradually seeps in to become part of our character and culture, and has made us what we are today.
There may be many definitions of corruption but, simply stated, it is misuse of entrusted funds and authority for personal gains. Similarly, there are probably many types and ways of corruption being practiced in the world. Whereas it is not possible to describe or even mention them here essentially because of a lack of knowledge, one thing can be said almost with certainty: with Pakistani ingenuity, flair and our love for illegal practices, each type is bound to exist in Pakistan in one form or the other.
We all know the evils of corruption and we all say that we must get rid of it. It has generated every conceivable evil in our society and has driven people to extremes. Supposedly, we have been trying to get rid of it for the last so many years. All governments have attempted devising techniques, created special institutions, made new laws and put in numerous efforts to curb it but have totally failed. Somehow, it appears that the greater the effort and laws to fight corruption, the greater the increase. Do we know why?
It is just like the way we choose our political leaders. We know that our political leadership has been instrumental in ruining our economy, institutions, national cohesion, resources, development and other worthwhile possessions of a free state. Still, we go and elect the same lot of people back into office or, as has become apparent now, permit them to continue to occupy offices that have been wrongfully gained. This could mean either of three things. One, we really do not want a change and want corruption to continue; two, we simply hope that God will perform a miracle for us because we are His favourite Muslims, and, three, we are shameless cowards having no self-respect, undeserving of a free country and civil rights. To my mind, the last one fits beautifully.
Corruption has affected our governance, supremacy of law, rational use of authority and everything that a civilised community practices. We claim to be good Muslims living in the land of the ‘pure’ and being champions of Islam; therein lies another irony of our being the biggest bigots and hypocrites. We have our mullahs and some of them are probably Muslims also. I have no statistics on their performance in the corruption field but what media reports suggest is that they are running head to head with politicians and others in the game, if not ahead. We have indeed raised corruption to an art form where most are graduates and PhDs.
The important part of the discussion is the question raised above. Why have we not been able to stem this rot and what can or should we do now? There are three things to examine here: reasons for our inability to control corruption, whose responsibility is it to control it, and how can it be done?
First, why we have failed so far. There could be many reasons but some of the most obvious, real and perceived, are as follows. There is poverty and inflation because political liberty does not fill the stomach. There has been no serious effort by the government because it is involved and does not want to commit suicide or kill its partners. Our political leaders are corrupt. Add to that the friendly opposition stances with emphasis on non-accountability. They all have pasts and they are always bought. We have the horrendous examples of the conduct of religious leaders. Blaise Pascal said that men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. There is the simple decay of moral fibre; seems like we never had any to begin with.
Nobody wants to face the wrongdoers; we might get killed. Happens every other day. Just the other day, a young man was shot dead by the guards of Abdul Qadir Gilani, the son of our former prime minister, over some trivial traffic argument. No remorse, no regrets. This is going to be one of the many cases where we have all condemned the individual, yet his fortune will bring him acquittal whenever the need arises. There is little justice and the culprit invariably gets away. Such societies invariably decay and eventually cease to exist.
It would seem to be the government’s responsibility to eradicate this menace but, by itself, the government cannot achieve anything, even if you could somehow coerce it into doing something like that. So many people from so many areas and concerns are involved that it has to be a joint effort. Therefore, the first requirement for us all is to have the intent and determination to do it. I am certain that many ways can be found to tackle the problem when and if we decide to do that. The main problem is being convinced beyond doubt that we are in imminent danger of becoming extinct as a nation if we do not address this issue. Two points need to be firmly understood at the very start. Firstly, the corruption cannot be rooted out entirely and we should be glad if we can lower it to levels generally accepted as low by the experts. Secondly, we will have to work at it patiently and consistently to achieve the aim. Much as one would like to see it done immediately, and it could be done by executing severe public punishments, we do not have the gall for it. We are simply not made of that stuff, however may we boast or self-aggrandise ourselves. Generally, we are a nation of cowards, hypocrites and self-deceivers. I suggest a look at the following thoughts for somebody to shoot holes in them.
Let us force the government to take up the issue of eradicating corruption as a priority through a print and electronic media campaign. Force our politicians, bureaucrats and other officials to stop mutual blaming and scoring points against each other in the media and elsewhere. If there is anything to be proved or done, it should be done legally and not simply boasted about. The media ought to start a campaign asking every political leader to prove what he or she has done for the country or its people during his/her lifetime, particularly during their political career. Our eminent jurists, law experts, scholars and those who know the ropes should be requested to provide a foolproof method to establish the guilt of an accused and then an immediate process to administer the punishment.
If there are any institutions left in the country with a hint of honest working, let them be. Do not lambast them. Let them come up. Concentrate where it is worst and hurts the most. Could it be possible for our print and electronic media to join hands and start a forceful campaign against this malady? Support investigative journalism to rip apart the corrupt. Pray like hell that our media and journalists do not get bought, at least not cheaply.