How Pakistan’s socio-political culture breeds corruption

Developing Just Leadership

Shahida Wizarat

Rajab 24, 1437 2016-05-01

Special Reports

by Shahida Wizarat (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 3, Rajab, 1437)

It is completely false to claim that Pakistan has a democracy. A mafia paid by foreign powers, is holding the country hostage. Unless these traitors are apprehended, the country will not make progress.

It is quite ironic that Pakistan, a country that produces more than one-fifth of its grain domestically and just under half its population works in the agriculture sector, should be food insecure. With many rivers and tributaries flowing through its vast land, it is strange that irrigation water should be scarce. Further, and despite these vast hydro resources, along with coal, oil, and gas reserves, it is also energy deficient. With vast mineral reserves, it still suffers from the resource curse. Its gross domestic product (GDP) and sectoral growth rates have witnessed declines; skewed distribution of income has increased and poverty levels have escalated alarmingly.

The ruling elite use public sector institutions for personal gain and even collect rent for themselves. Such institutions are thus unable to deliver essential services like primary and higher education, research, legislation, water, power, transport, etc, and other civic amenities to the public. Natural resources are plundered and handed over to foreign companies/countries without any share for the country and its people. Let us consider just one example. Superpowers use the country’s highways and roads to transport weapons, goods, and services but pay peanuts for such services. The natural outcome has been a sense of exclusion, breakdown of law and order, escalation in conflict and turmoil, poor governance, lack of essential services and utilities. The rule of law is almost nonexistent; merit is marginalized and the dictum “might is right” prevails.

Moreover, a war has been imposed on the country that has taken a heavy toll in terms of human life, suffering and finances. As if this was not enough, big seed companies with the connivance of USAID are promoting genetically modified (GM) seeds of agricultural crops resulting in infecting our food, destroying our ecosystem, and causing a major decline in output of major cash crops like cotton, with disastrous consequences for the economy. The government along with other political parties is encouraging USAID to pollute food production by promoting Bt rice, corn, wheat, fruits and vegetables in the country. And when farmers did not purchase GM seeds, USAID has itself started Bt rice and wheat production in the Shikarpur district of Sindh. It has also distributed GM apple saplings in Baluchistan without informing the farmers that these are GMOs. There is evidence of tremendous increase in serious illnesses like cancer, epilepsy, seizures, and strokes in Pakistan over the last few years.

How can one explain Pakistan’s present predicament? The reason for this sordid state of affairs is the socio-political fabric of the country. Pakistanis with strong links to establishments in the US and UK have created a network and imposed a “supra-national” government over and above the present government in Pakistan. The country’s constitution, its Statutes, Service Rules and bylaws governing organizations and institutions are subservient to it. The Government of Pakistan is subservient to this “supra-national” government and willingly includes people selected by it in the cabinet, as heads of government institutions, government bodies, State-owned Enterprises (SOEs), etc. This is how heads of organizations are appointed, irrespective of caliber or merit. A cursory look at some institutions in Pakistan reveals that leadership role has been passed on from father to daughter in some institutions, while in many others from a mentor to a protégé. Even higher education is not spared and heads of departments, centres, vice chancellors are appointed by the selectees to ensure that independent-minded academics are marginalized and the network’s nominees are elevated to leadership positions. The Statutes and Service Rules governing institutions have become redundant. Whenever a top slot becomes vacant, the entire network uses its full force to install its “selectee” to the top position, irrespective of the Service Rules and Statutes governing institutions.

While history is witness to some of the worst forms of apartheid practiced against First Nations in the US and Canada, Aborigines in Australia, and Blacks in South Africa, the apartheid practiced in Pakistan is much more subtle in nature. Even people who are its victims are reticent to discuss it. This decadent socio-political system appoints those to leadership positions that are part of the ruling clique.

The vast majority of Pakistanis have become aliens in their own country. Only a small minority is considered first class citizens; the rest are second or third class citizens. They can never dream of reaching the top, although the constitution guarantees equal opportunity to every citizen of the country. It is a blatant violation of merit and the rule of law, not in an ad hoc but systemic manner. In the past this socio-political system was the biggest obstacle to the progress and prosperity of Pakistan, but now it has become a threat to its very existence.

State Owned Enterprises have been ruined as they are used for providing perks and privileges instead of providing goods and services to the country/society. There are four primary reasons why Pakistani institutions have become dysfunctional. First, since heads of organizations are not appointed on the basis of merit, they are not competent for the positions they occupy. Second, they promote the political agenda and dictation of the country/superpower that helped them to get installed. And third, the position appears to be a reward or prize for services already rendered. Such positions are, therefore, more likely to be used for rent seeking and personal gains, rather than promoting national objectives.1 Fourth, this milking of public sector institutions has made them bankrupt, making a case for their privatization at throwaway prices as recently witnessed in the privatization debate about PIA.

Those appointed to leadership positions have used their power to build their own constituencies and support groups. There are allegations that State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) governors have indulged in corruption in the privatization of commercial banks. The name of a former SBP Governor in the privatization of the Muslim Commercial Bank was pointed out by former Justice Jawad Khawaja but the matter seems to have been hushed up and no investigation is contemplated.2 Family members of SBP Governors formed companies that benefitted from the top bank, lucrative appointments in violation of SBP rules were made, and SBP colonies were allegedly sold at below market prices to important state institutions to protect themselves from future accountability.

In public sector universities authorities do not appear to be answerable to anyone leading to large-scale embezzlement, financial corruption,3 nepotism and illegal appointments,4 decline in academic standards,5 and breakdown of law and order on campuses.6 Some Vice Chancellors have received lucrative gifts of expensive houses in upscale localities. As a result of moral corruption by officials in the education sector, these seats of learning have fallen into disrepute. The National Accountability Board (NAB) recently discovered corruption to the tune of Rs 300 million by those serving in the examination department of a public sector university. The person involved in this corruption scam belonged to a political party and has been nabbed, but he was not an employee of the university.

The university official providing patronage and support cannot be nabbed because he was sailing in two boats. Affiliated with a political party, he is also part of the lobby that has been governing Pakistan. Not only this individual but all high officials enjoy the patronage of sitting state officials who also have their feet in two boats. We are witness to the immunity that Raymond Davis enjoyed and despite his murder of two Pakistanis in broad daylight and links to 119 militants (as per evidence retrieved from his cell phone), he was set free with the support and connivance of state institutions in Pakistan including the then army chief. Pakistanis who have links with US and serve Washington’s interests enjoy the same level of immunity.

Technocrats with links to foreign countries have disclosed state secrets to the US but no inquiries have been conducted against them for these treasonous acts.7 On the contrary, and in spite of anti-state activities, the former army chief forwarded their names for appointment to important ministerial posts.8 Pakistanis who are granted government scholarships have to sign a bond to return and serve the country upon completion of their studies abroad. Those that renege on their commitments are blacklisted. This means that they would never be allowed to work in Pakistan. Yet three of them have made it to top posts, one becoming a federal commerce minister, another Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, and the third person was appointed Governor of the SBP.9

More than 50,000 visas were issued under various categories between 2008 and 2011 to American citizens by a former ambassador of Pakistan to the US. This was revealed by the foreign ministry and has resulted in the present predicament in which the country finds itself in today.10 The ex-ambassador is enjoying a comfortable life in the US. None of these people has ever been held accountable.

Accountability of civilian bureaucrats, SBP officials and public sector university officials, has been stymied to protect those who belong to the US lobby in Pakistan. Even where an inquiry has been launched, the moment it involves the ruling clique/American lobby in Pakistan the case doesn’t progress any further. But one has to admit that the accountability being conducted by the army has not hesitated to go after those who have indulged in corruption, irrespective of their affiliations, as revealed by the inquiry being conducted against a former Army Chief and his brothers.

The “network” is composed of people who are working for foreign governments in return for financial handouts. These people have no allegiance to Pakistan. Thoroughly corrupt, they have sold themselves for a loaf of bread and prevented honest, competent, and patriotic Pakistanis from coming to power. If people are appointed to leadership positions on an individual basis and indulge in corruption then the checks and balances would nab such people and bring them to task. But this will not happen if people have acquired positions through network connections. The entire network springs into action the moment any member is caught in financial and/or moral corruption. This is because the corrupt individual alone does not enjoy the spoils; the entire network benefits from such corruption. All members of the network get their share and thus have a vested interest in protecting the accused rather than nabbing him/her.

Take the case of politicians. They are eager to share power with those who belong to the same network as a way of protection from accountability. They know that those who belong to this network will not face accountability. Thus one way of protection is to share the booty with those who belong to this network.

The accountability of politicians that was recently initiated should continue. The people of Pakistan would love to see all the corrupt politicians brought to justice. But protecting the ruling clique, a scared cow, or an individual will taint the entire exercise. Instead of reducing corruption, it will lead to more corruption when the corrupt realize that by joining a lobby, they will enjoy immunity. This will swell the ranks of mercenaries who will pursue US interests with even greater vigor since this would be the ideal way to secure protection. Corruption will flourish.

While others try to put their best foot forward, Pakistanis do the exact opposite. The socio-political system enables paid agents and criminals to rise to the top. Corruption is, therefore, embedded in Pakistan’s socio-political fabric and culture. It is unrealistic to expect a corrupt system to wage war against corruption when the latter is deeply embedded in its bowels. Trying to purge the country of corruption, while leaving the socio-political culture intact is a contradiction in terms. The only way to remove corruption from the body politic is to change the entire system.

Judgments by superior courts about Pakistanis holding dual nationality have alerted the people. What about Pakistanis who have Pakistani nationality but work as agents for some foreign entity or government? Can they hold high office? In line with the ruling of the honorable court, just as Pakistanis with dual nationality are barred from holding an official or elected position in Pakistan, all Pakistanis on the payroll of foreign agencies should be barred from holding an office as well. The entire caretaker setup, permanent setups and high officials should be vetted for links to foreign countries if Pakistan is to be saved and set on the path to prosperity.

In Pakistan there is both government failure as well as market failure, as the same network has occupied leadership positions in both. A lot of private sector organizations are therefore falling prey to this menace. Performance of some very credible and well-known brands has nosedived as a result of the appointment of incompetent people to senior managerial posts. Privatization is therefore not the answer to the ills afflicting SOEs. The only way to make the SOEs and all other state institutions functional, efficient and profitable is to bring patriotic, honest and competent Pakistanis to the top and stop punishing them for their honesty, competence and patriotism!

Shahida Wizarat is a writer; one of her recent publications is Fighting Imperialism, Liberating Pakistan, published by the Centre for Research and Statistics (CRS) in Karachi, Pakistan.


  1. Wizarat, 2011.
  2. “NAB Ignoring Mega Scandals,” The News, July 3, 2015.
  3. Daily Jang, April 7, 2009; Dawn, Metropolitan section, March 9, 2009.
  4. Daily Jang, July 27, 2007; Dawn, July 20, 2008; The Nation, August 26, 2008; Asia Pulse Data Source, April 29, 2007.
  5. Daily Jang, Dawn, various issues.
  6. Dawn, Metropolitan section, August 26, 2006; Asian Human Rights Commission Statement, October 17, 2006.
  7. Rauf Klasra, South Asia Tribune, July 29, 2004.
  8. WikiLeaks on the appointment of Pakistan’s Finance Minister in 2009.
  9. We have information about only three of the many who reneged on their commitments. It is highly probable that the rest also made it to the top.
  10. Pakistan Cyber Force, internet.
Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Use
Copyrights © 1436 AH
Sign In
Forgot Password?
Not a Member? Signup