Corruption in Pakistan: Civil, Judicial, political and Military – An Overview


        Corruption in the sense of civil and military servants and Public officials and politicians of Pakistan pocketing public funds or taking bribes is too well known and documented by in-country and international agencies, to be worthy of any unusual notice. After all, the country has had the dubious distinction of being on the top of the list of corrupt countries several times. But the factors underlying the problem merit a second look.

Bribery is as old as human history. It has been variously and euphemistically named tribute, nazar (presentation), facilitation fee etc. What distinguished it from a gift was the element of coercion. In India under the British rule, it became an art form. It was generally called “Income from above” implying divine favor; it was most prevalent among the police, minor court officials, and revenue services. But corruption, in whatever form, was stigmatized and looked down upon by the majority of people.

Leaders of Indian independence movement were, by and large, men and women of high moral integrity. Lawyers, academics and social workers dominated the Indian national congress. Muslim league on the other hand, except for Mr. Jinnah and a few others, was led by landlords- usually the progeny of men who had supported the British against their compatriots in the 1857 war of independence.

After partition, Corruption was kept at the pre-independence level.

The rulers, who followed Jinnah and Liaquat, though corrupt in the political sense, were fiscally upright. Senior civil servants lived within their means.

Ayub Khan, conspiring with landlord-politicians of Pakistan, not only subverted the newly emerging political process, ushered in an era of corruption at an unprecedented scale. His son Gohar Ayub, a captain in the Pakistan Army, served as his agent general. Gohar was awarded highly lucrative licenses for manufacturing plants, imports, trades and industries and along with his father in law who was an army general founded the Gandhara [1] industries and metamorphosed into an industrial magnate almost overnight. In the 1965 elections Karachi and Dacca voted against his father. He perpetrated a reign of terror [2] in poorer districts of Karachi.

The dam that had kept men in authority honest had been breached. Army officers would have to be superhuman, and they were not, to resist the temptation.

Ayub had been weakened by the rigging of the polls in his election against Miss Jinnah. 1965 war undermined his credibility further. He handed over the presidency to General Yahya Khan, who conducted an election, which resulted in the victory of Mujib’s Awami league. The establishment, civil and military, aided and abetted by Bhutto, the victor in West Pakistan, unleashed a reign of terror, which ended up in India helping East Pakistanis, and humiliating defeat of the Pakistan army. The country split up.

Bhutto took over in West Pakistan, now all of Pakistan. He had been making pious noises about an egalitarian society.

Corruption rose to higher levels in Bhutto’s time. The hitherto un-blemished ranks of education and postal workers also joined in. Once Foreign Service was highly coveted and the brightest entrants into civil service chose it as a career. Now number one choice was police, followed by administrative services, customs, Income Tax.

Bhutto took on and defeated all comers, then made the fatal mistake of taking on the USA. The inevitable happened. Army, supported by all opposition political parties and foreign interests overthrew him. He was imprisoned and hanged after palpably irregular court proceedings.

Zia Ul Haq introduced army officers from generals to mid-level ranks into civilian jobs. His loud protestations and proclamation of Islamic law/justice/government notwithstanding, he let the military Governors of provinces rake in the armament and drug money on an unprecedented scale. The take was so colossal, that a big feudal lord, Nawab of Hoti offered to exchange his enormous land-holdings for a month’s income of Governor Lt General Fazle Haq of the NWFP.

Zia had plunged Pakistan into the proxy war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Now money and materiel from the USA poured in. Army was the conduit and did not hesitate to sell, even as advanced equipment as Stinger missiles, to the highest bidder. Americans decided to send an audit team. Before they could arrive, an ammunition dump (Ojhri Camp) was set to fire. That killed hundreds but covered illicit sales.

The USA and Pakistan patronized and nurtured Al-Qaida and the Taliban. Now they are suffering. “Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind”

Soviets gave Afghans the chemical technology of refining raw opium into heroin. Pakistan became the leading international drug trafficking highway. They also gave assault rifles (Kalashnikov) to all and sundry in Afghanistan. Afghan sold most of them to arm dealers. Prior to Zia Ul Haq, the word heroin was taken for heroine- an eminent cinema actress like Noor Jehan or Rekha. At the end of his rule there were over a million heroin addicts, now estimated at five millions and at the mention of the word no one thought of Bollywood heartthrobs. Kalashnikov could be rented for a few dollars an hour.

Now teachers would not let students pass their examinations unless tutored privately and postmen won’t deliver mail unless tipped. An education department bureaucrat was incensed at not being told by his physician that the latter’s daughter was appearing in an examination, he supervised. The daughter could have done him the favor of asking for any score she desired. Customs officials proclaimed that they earned tens of millions for the Government and had the right to keep a million or two in their pockets. Bribery had become respectable. Prospective mothers in law preferred a peon in the Income Tax department to a physician to wed their daughters. I built a hospital in Pakistan and we were on the panel of several nationalized industries. We had to pay 20% of the bill as a kick back.

Finally Zia committed the same mistake all dictators do, took on powers too big for him and went down in a blaze, not of glory, but that of an airplane crash.

The civilian interregnum between Zia and Musharraf could not stem the tide of corruption, even if they wanted to. We are all familiar with English palaces of Benazir, London West end apartments of Nawaz Sharif (equivalent of Upper East Side in Manhattan) and Swiss bank accounts of both. A California based Pakistani news magazine, Pakistan link, published a list of Pakistani U.S $ billionaires. Besides Benazir and Nawaz, four Generals and two civil servants graced the list.

Nawaz Sharif grew too big for his britches. He hounded a CJ out of office, fired a Navy chief, but when he demanded the resignation of the army chief, and to play it safe, appointed a Mohajir Musharraf, as the new chief, he hammered the last nail in his prime ministerial coffin.

Musharraf provoked a clash on ice bound kargil heights. Indian Army, caught napping, lost several thousand soldiers. The Indian government threatened to attack Pakistan. The Indian threat of all out war frightened Nawaz out of the little wit he had. With tail between his legs, he flew to Washington DC to plead with Clinton to get him out of the mess. Clinton put the prestige of the US president’s office on line and persuaded the Indian Prime Minister to agree to a cease-fire.

The Army cried foul. Their holy warriors had shed their blood in vain. The hapless Nawaz, trying desperately to retrieve lost ground, tried to find a replacement for Musharraf. The generals closed their ranks; Nawaz could only persuade the Army’s intelligence chief to agree to step in.

Musharraf on the way back from a goodwill trip to Sri Lanka, was on a plane. Nawaz tried to keep the plane from landing in Karachi-to no avail. The local army commander took over the airport.

Musharraf landed and after conferring with armed forces officers made the usual patriotic and pious noises, consolidated his rule, promised elections, easily co-opted erstwhile followers of BB and Nawaz into the government, all in short order.

It was only befitting that Musharraf outdo previous military dictators. He inducted lower rank army officers into civilian jobs as well. At one time, an army captain presided over a police station along with the usual police inspector and a major sat besides a district officer etc.

With its usual hypocrisy, the world community initially shunned Musharraf, but come 9/11, and after an initial mating ritual, Musharraf declared Pakistan open territory for “Coalition Forces” became darling of the West, was lionized in London and Washington DC and granted the much coveted sojourn at Camp David. Money and material started to flow in again, with the army again playing the middleman and dipping its hand in the till. Musharraf even managed to retrieve his secular colors and tried to leash religious fanatics

It was inevitable that Musharraf should commit a blunder. Incensed by the CJ’s decision to block the sale of the Steel Mill at fire sale price and depriving him of a sizable commission (and credibility) Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz persuaded him to dysfunctionalize Iftikhar Chaudhry.

The lawyers launched a movement to restore the CJ, organized a long march to Islamabad, but the leader Aitzaz Ahsan lost his nerve at the last minute (or did not want to undermine the establishment totally).  During the period Musharraf had to order an assault on the “Red mosque” in Islamabad, where Taliban had collected a vast horde of arms, and openly defied government authority. Musharraf was grievously hurt by both events.

Unable to find an alternative, the USA sent Benazir to prop Musharraf up and told him to schedule an election. Unable to avenge the Red Mosque directly on Musharraf, Taliban, it is widely believed, took care of her.

Elections were postponed, but Benazir’s party won a plurality in the parliament, and presumably after getting approval of the USA, got rid of Musharraf and installed Benazir’s husband into the presidency.

Not too long after that the government surrendered a big chunk of territory in the North West to Taliban. It seems only a question of time for the rest of the country to go under.

Post Musharraf Zardari and Nawaz administrations continued to play the second fiddle to the army, which allowed them the authority to loot.

Contempt of court is an antiquated and quaint term in Pakistani context. Remember Zia packed the Supreme Court to get a guilty verdict against Bhutto. All the dictators proclaimed an ordinance, drafted by a legal Machiavelli, Sharifuddin Pirzada, Legal Framework Order, which the high judiciary have to sign on to, or lose their job. Pirzada is, by no means, the only one to blame. The Supreme Court blessed the first dismissal of lawfully constituted Government as far back as 1954.

Pakistani social workers, reformers and do-gooders have caught on to the NGO game. All kinds of issues are catered to, from victims of sexual crimes, honor killings, barter of women, gender discrimination, wife abuse, prisoner abuse, flesh trade, violation of civil rights, to desertification and illiteracy. The parliament in Pakistan has also been Ngoised. They were given fourteen million dollars to improve their function.

Nearly all NGO funding comes from the good old USA corporations. The NGOs are naturally beholden to donors and take care to eulogize America. Thus not only a comprador class has been created, but the class camouflages itself in reformist garb. It is, to date, the most insidious and effective invention to subvert the struggle for human, civil and economic rights of the common man.

Nearly all the third countries have the same problem. That the richest country in the world, the USA is awash in scandals- Enron, Abramoff, Tom Delay, assorted members of the congress to name but a few of the recent ones, is but a poor consolation.

It is really not too difficult to explain why Pakistani society is much more corrupt than the Indian one. It started off with a tremendous handicap. On paper it was supposed to get one fourth of the total assets of undivided India. In practice, it got much less. Its territory was much less developed. Most of industries, most of skilled and educated persons, and most of the administrative personnel in the region had been non-Muslims. KE Medical in Lahore had only two Muslim professors. NED Engineering College in Karachi had no Muslim professors. Non-Muslim staff left for India. Teachers, administrators and technical persons migrated from India, but could not do much in a country bereft of infrastructure.

The government took on, was enticed into, or had the moral obligation to, depending on your point of view, wage a war in Kashmir at a time it could ill afford to. The government of India used the conflict to withhold funds from the government of Pakistan. If the Nizam of Hyderabad had not helped out with a donation of a billion rupees, Patel and other right wing congress politicians would have seen their dream of the collapse of Pakistan come true. The real and perceived threats and conflict in Kashmir transformed the country into a security state and empowered the armed forces.

The insecurity engendered by total chaos attendant upon partition, break down of administration and bleak economic prospects, compounded by evils of the feudal system, the underpinning of religion, and the knee jerk reaction of doing opposite of what India did, drove Pakistan into the arms of the neo-imperialist Anglo-American block.

Signing the “mutual” defense treaties, Baghdad pact, Seato, and later Cento etc, which did little to strengthen Pakistan, and embroiled the country into anti-soviet policies, were stark failures of foreign policy.

Major part of the budget was (and is) wasted on defense (and later on loan servicing, loans forced on the third world for irrelevant projects). Little was left to promote industry, create jobs, fund education or provide social services.

Political institutions were not developed either, resulting in alienation of East Pakistan, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan, roughly in that order. The role played by the feudal lords, Mullahs, bureaucrats and the armed forces [3] stunting the growth of the country are beyond the scope of this paper, but the end result has been persistent poverty, population explosion, lack of industrial development, and poor social services.

Cosmetic measures will not do. The social structure has to be overhauled. The whole basis of foreign and domestic policies has to be changed.

Pakistan would under no conceivable circumstances be able to wrest control of Kashmir from the force of arms. The campaign should be restricted to peaceful diplomatic negotiations in which the real victims, the people of the state should be fully involved.

Pakistan should downsize the armed forces to perhaps a quarter of what they are. That should be sufficient for any contingency. Retrenchment of armed forces will more than compensate for loss of aid accruing from the so-called anti-terrorist stance. Abolition of the feudal system, provincial autonomy, induction of representative government [4], along with investment in social services and industry, should be taken in hand..

How this radical change can come about, what agency will mediate it, and what political dispensation will be able to even take first steps, is another study.


[1] Gandhara was a huge enterprise and had all kinds of mining and manufacturing concessions.

[2] I was a resident Medical officer in a surgical department in civil hospital Karachi and personally treated tens of scores of injured working class people.

[3] For convenience and brevity I group them together as the evil Quad. I must hasten to add that inspiration for the term came from Mao

[4] The charade of elections under the supervision of the current dispensation followed by installation of Tweedledum or Tweedledee under control of an incumbent army chief will not usher in bourgeoisie democracy.


I was born in Dewa Sharif, UP, India in 1939.

I went to school from the fourth to eighth class in Gonda, UP and the 9th grade in Jhansi, UP, India.

We moved to Quetta, Pakistan and went to school for the 10th grade and intermediate college in the same town.

I was in Karachi University 1954-57, then Dow Medical College 1957-62. I Was in the National Students Federation from 1954 to 1962, trained in surgery in the Civil Hospital Karachi 1962-65, proceeded to England 1965 and trained in General surgery and orthopedic surgery till 73, when I left for Canada 1973-74, USA 1974-83, back to Karachi 1983 and built a hospital and went back to the USA in 1991, been in the USA since.

I retired from surgery in 2005.

I have worked in various HR and Socialist groups in the USA.

I have Published two books ,:”A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents,” and ,”God, Government and Globalization”, and am working on the third one, “An Analysis of the Sources and Derivation of Religions”.



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