Corruption is a universal phenomenon present in all countries in varying forms and degrees. It is also, indeed, ancient. References to bribery and the punishments for bribery can be found in many ancient sources such as The Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon (22nd Century BC). The Eddict of Harmhab, king of Egypt (14 century BC), and Kautilya’s Arthasastra (14 Century BC). Corruption is as old as the kingdom’s notion, and a corruption-free society is akin to an ideal state.
Corruption in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon. Its roots date back to the colonial period when the Britishers rewarded lands and titles to their loyalists, leading to nepotism and corruption. Two significant crises played a fundamental role in the genesis of corruption in this part of the world: the spiral in the defence-related purchases during and after the World War II and allotment of evacuee property after the partition of the Indian subcontinent. This was followed by industrial and trade licensing and patronage schemes like bonus voucher and route permits in the 1950s and 1960s. The nationalization policy of the 1970s created new opportunities for corruption and gave birth to a new breed of corrupt government officers. The decade of 1980s witnessed the surge of corruption in religious and business circles.
Though public sector corruption was considered an impediment towards development, it gained a growing focus of governments in developing countries due to the neoliberal paradigm of ‘good governance’ introduced by international donors. The assumption was the governments in developing countries were inefficient, and one of the primary causes was rampant corruption in the public sector. Consequently, markets were proposed to a more significant role within the ‘good governance’ paradigm. Therefore, General Pervez Musharraf introduced the National Accountability Bureau, with draconian laws, to follow international donors’ good-governance prescriptions.
Though General Musharraf introduced NAB to control corruption ostensibly, Imran Khan took it further to make an anti-corruption plan as the main forte of PTI. Both, however, miserably failed to control corruption, and corruption instead increased significantly. During his sit-down, Mr Khan had claimed that if the Prime Minister is honest, all members of the state work honestly. His claim that the state’s executive’s honesty could transform the entire state machinery and overcome systemic corruption proved wrong. Several significant scandals of corruption have been reported in the media during PTI’s hybrid regime. According to Transparency International, instead of overcoming corruption, PTI’s government significantly increased it in the past two and a half years. People now question how personal honesty of Mr Khan serves the country when systemic corruption within state departments is increasing enormously.
A pertinent question to ask is why Mr Khan’s good intentions of controlling corruption widespread in state departments failed. Such failure is because of the misunderstanding of the nature, characteristics, patterns, and organizational structure of the phenomenon to devise anti-corruption strategies. Since the 1950s, politicians have been accused of being corrupt. They are blamed for being ‘rotten apples’ born with deviant behaviour ignoring permanently embedded structures (social, political, economic) primarily responsible for perpetuating corruption.
The concept of corruption pursued is ‘abuse of public authority for personal gains.’ This is a western concept proposed by the famous sociologist Max Weber. At least two preconditions are required for effective implementation of such a concept of corruption. Firstly, there has to be a sharp distinction between the state and society, implying that the state departments should be insulated from interest groups, kinship ties. Secondly, individuals in society are transformed as individuals, free from their kinship ties. Kinship societies are the ones where individuals exist in relation to others instead of as individuals.
Corruption, as presented by Imran Khan as the cause of all ills, is a misguided assumption
For this reason, while taking even the most critical decisions such as marriage, they seek approval of their family members and, in some cases, even of their extended family members or a whole clan. When such relations are translated into politics, individuals vote for kinship relations where they fail to associate themselves with the large unit of society, that is, the nation-state. They do not vote for political manifestos but for what they get in response individually, as families or as communities from the contesting candidates.
The system of non-party elections, especially for local governments since Ayub Khan, had a long-lasting impact on Pakistani politics. The candidates could not mobilize people on party bases and consequently relied on their clans and castes to support local government elections. Consequently, local government elections led to politics based on clan and caste loyalties and significantly segregated population on clan and caste lines. Such loyalties ultimately strengthened the politics of patronage. The new political elite emerged from local councils through a non-party system of elections and came to power through military patronage and their clan and caste strength. After becoming members of national and provincial parliaments, these new politicians introduced politics based on their experience of local governance, i.e., they introduced the politics of personalized patronage and started patronizing their clan-based constituencies by using development funds to boost their chances to be re-elected.
Western societies have gone through several centuries to transform kinship-based societies into nation-states. Developing countries have yet to achieve a society where individuals and families can develop a sense of association with a larger nation-state beyond kinship loyalties. This is truer for countries like Pakistan, where several decades of direct military rule privileged non-party elections and where there is an ongoing military interference in politics. Such a situation has significantly strengthened the kinship system of politics, spawning electable at the detriment of establishing the state as a rational-bureaucratic entity accountable to people.
The state anchored by patron-client politics in a society where kinship ties have yet to be transformed has prohibited a clear separation of state and society, disempowering people to make the state accountable to them to overcome corruption. The military-controlled patron-client politics has also hindered state formation in the country, which still seems to be incomplete.
In reflecting upon “the state” in Pakistan considering the above facts, the first difficulty is that the term ‘state’ itself is an elusive one. It seems inappropriate to apply the term to the institutions of the country. Although there is “a community” with a monopoly over coercive ability within Pakistan’s territory, it has failed to devise institutions that confer just and transparent legitimacy over the use of this force. This is true even though there has always been an ongoing effort to build a state, initially by the politicians and since 1958 by the military. Strictly speaking, there is no state as such in Pakistan; there are only administration, military and civil officials engaged in certain governmentality. Due to historical factors guided by their interests, the dominant institution of the military in Pakistan has structured the state in a way that rural societies (comprising most of the population) are governed through the alternative mode of governance, giving birth to statelessness-within-a-state. Such a situation adds considerable complexity to understanding developing states such as Pakistan and prevailing corruption.
In short, unless the process of state formation insulated from the parochial interests of dominant state institutions, bureaucrats and electables (an offshoot of kinship-based politics of patronage) is completed, the mission of controlling corruption will remain elusive. From this analysis, it becomes clear that corruption, as presented by Imran Khan as the cause of all ills, is a misguided assumption. Corruption instead is an effect of the incomplete process of state formation disabling the state to determine the field of action within society and establishing a sharp boundary between the state and society. The only way to achieve this is to ensure non-interference of non-political institutions in politics and a sustained process of establishing and strengthening civilian-based democratic institutions and governance accountable to Pakistan’s people. Without struggling for such cause, political parties adopting the plan of corruption as their base to discredit others are bound to be trapped in a self-defeating endeavour.