In developing countries, corruption is the public enemy. Something, that is conjointly endemic to our region...an obvious fact, that we are comfortable with; this statement had held good yesterday, and is quite relevant today. Some of us have further, identified corruption to be a malignant cancer.
A Customs Appraiser's wife in Lahore, boasts happily of her husband's 'skim milk' fortunes. Or simply, a peon's 'income from above' in Karachi, that drops in his wallet every day, at the city's Taxation Department, where he goes to work. When I left the soil of Pakistan in the year 2002, the country was rated among the top four, most corrupt nations on this planet. Alarmingly, it was also a hot contestant for one of the top berths among the world's most dangerous countries.
Business elite I knew in Karachi then, would categorically share .....'for every rupee that was deposited in the nation's treasury by way of tax, eleven rupees went into the deep pockets of the corrupt officials'. Unfortunately though, every rupee that a corrupt official or the business person put in his pouch, was a rupee stolen from a pregnant woman who needed nutrients, or from a girl or a boy who deserved to go to school, or pilfered from communities that were deprived of clean water, roads and school. It is an established truth that even rupee matters for the people; it is critical in a developing nation, and vital for their continuing efforts to roll back extreme poverty.
There has been a revolution of a different kind, in the past decade. Pakistan's meteoric rise to its current level of (mega) corruption is due to significant, multidimensional, internal and external factors. Greed. Opportunity. Moral bankruptcy. Decaying values. Crippled judiciary. Education in doldrums. Rogue Army. To sum it all, Wealth is the Islamic Republic's new forte, and its cherished, holy 'qibla'!
A dominant feature of our human nature that has continued since Biblical times is: 'the more you get, the more you want'. Pakistan's spiritual leanings towards the Arab world, following the impact of the construction boom in the Middle East, prompted the nation's labor force including their brain and brawn, to race here, and cash in the bounties of the booming oil industry. The year 1979 was a watershed in Pakistan's record high 'home remittances' of one billion dollars.
Only a few years earlier, in 1971, a rendezvous with destiny had truncated this country. The people of Pakistan had suffered a humiliating military defeat. Socialist policies of the new political government, led to a greater condescension and further ruin. Industry, financial and educational institutions were 'nationalized', in state interests. Not really, a nation's path to glory, self respect and standing in the community of nations.
Following the tragic dismemberment of Pakistan, continuing chaos and political vacuum took over, to deliver reigns of political leadership to a military 'junta' that relied on greedy politicians and a clergy that was starved for power. In 1977, Gen. Zia ul Haq had just filled that empty void, by way of his strong following in the armed forces, the power hungry 'mullahs' and the corrupt politicians, who were soon to make hay in the new 'Islamic' settings. The military dictator handpicked a young Nawaz Sharif from an iron foundry of Lahore, to welcome him into the hastily crafted political fold, that aimed to keep the remains of Z A Bhutto's successors at bay.
Pakistan's size of economy had contracted, after the majority province broke away to form a new and independent nation of Bangladesh. Time was now ripe for Pakistan 's fortunate expatriate workers to send home, money that could salvage them out of poverty, and further, would enable recipients to indulge in 'luxuries' of real state, and a buying frenzy of electronic gadgets, home appliances and carry out their home renovations. Something that brought joys for the family or, would augur well with their elevated, collective egos and yield for the them, a recognition that would be unique.
By monetary standards, the expatriate workers attained 'success' in life. They were Pakistan's masons, scaffolders, technicians, plumbers, pipe fitters, artisans and machine operators, who were participating in the fast-pace development of Dubai. In the conservative, Pakistani society, these young, school and 'madrasa' dropouts would become the most sought after grooms, for the fairest of the waiting brides, in rural settings of Pakistan.
Politicians capitalized on the country's new and emerging social trends. There was wealth that waited for them, to be amassed in this land. No urgent economic concern, to revive back production in the sick industries of the country. No political pressure or will, to provide jobs for the unemployed. Once again Pakistan had drifted to become a nation of traders, importers, borrowers and defaulters. In the year 1985, President Zia had ensured that the simple minded citizens of this country recognize his leadership and his legitimacy through a Referendum, which guaranteed his rule. And further, the ruling junta enforced an archaic, Islamic code of life that pleased the clergy and the innocent people. Those, who were oblivious of the far reaching and dangerous future consequences, while a confused nation joined its leaders to toy with preaching and practices of a fundamental Islam.
Newly discovered frontiers of Pakistan's freedom, ideology, preferences and choices, encouraged active players in this country to transform the 'land of the pure', into one large breeding ground, for a new kind of mafia. Later on, they would shape into a defiant and a parallel force that would have the ability to broker power, yield influence and even collaborate independently with vested foreign interests, to work with them for support and sustenance in organized crimes of corruption.
While the cool breeze brought smiles to the active clergy, they vied for greater space that would add value to their sermons at the pulpit. The beautiful landscape of northern Pakistan became the recruitment ground and training center for young boys, who bordered the age of adolescence; who were seduced to enforce Allah's righteous causes, in the neighboring territory of Kashmir. Sacrifices of life and limbs were deemed as their greatest rewards that awaited them in the Heavens.
It was the opportune time for the party to begin in the country. Politicians had come of age, to engage in massive, fully fledged plunder. A rat race of deep, embedded corruption gathered momentum, in all spheres of activity. A model nation now engaged itself in an unstable, messy and a reeking dark bubble of opportunity.
There were millions, no, billions of dollars to be made through organized crime. A little suffocation for the 160 million people of Karachi's mega city would enable the mafia to acquire gross yield of millions. An estimated 2.0 billion dollars, was being earned through corruption, per day. This was a decent return on a carefully planned investment of efforts and influence. This booty had to be siphoned off quickly, from their playing fields, into to safe deposit lockers outside of Pakistan's sovereign boundaries.
With the advent of another military takeover in 1999, the same forces jumped on the bandwagon to support their new leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The new army junta, simply had to open the text books of the past two MLOs (Martial Law Orders), to enjoy a smooth transition of power. A passive Judiciary would endorse the time tested doctrine of necessity, to provide legitimacy of the army takeover of the power in Pakistan.
Once again, an elite stream of politicians, business people and the clergy joined Pakistan's new military leader and CEO, to strengthen the hands of another reign of dictatorship. This time, all those who joined hands to save Pakistan, had hoped to multiply their bonanza and also their corrupt financial gains, many folds, through reliable and cunning practices, while everyone who had joined the consortium, to share the bounties of political power. All this had guaranteed sky high returns on their meticulous investments!
(To be continued)
The writer is based in Florida, USA
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