Our biggest problem?

Spoiler alert: It’s not corruption

The mantra of corruption and eliminating corruption has gained increasing popularity after the historic Lahore jalsa by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. The politicians of that party and the supporters have raised hue and cry over the issue of corruption by the politicians and bureaucrats.

This, interestingly, is not a new phenomenon. There has been an undercurrent in the socio-political discourse about this issue and for the last 30 years, corruption is hailed as the root cause of most of our problems. Their solution to this problem seems to be a “technocratic” government, a model which has been tried at least twice in this country and failed to change anything. I beg to differ with this point of view and I want to explain why do I think that? (It’s not because I am on the payroll of any party).

To start with, I would like to quote some facts and figures. According to Pakistan Public Opinion survey 2009, 45 percent people said that the single most important issue facing Pakistan was inflation, 26 percent said it was unemployment, 17 percent said it was terrorism, 15 percent said it was electricity and water, 10 percent said it was poverty and only eight percent said it was corruption.

This does not mean corruption does not exist on a large scale in our country. Unfortunately, the only corruption being highlighted is the one done by the elected representatives of the people while the other institutions keep on looting this country without a second thought. As Mohammad Hanif once wrote, “Pakistan’s army is as corrupt as the politicians from whom it wants to save the country. It’s just better at paperwork.”

Corruption is deep-rooted in our society and eliminating it would require more than sloganeering or a single regime change. We need to understand the dynamics behind corrupt practices and how ordinary people are equally responsible for a corrupt society than a politician or a bureaucrat. Bringing an end to corruption will take at least a generation which would be brought up on the agenda of honesty and belief in hard work rather than nepotism and paying your way out of trouble.

We may love to hate them but we should learn some lessons in this regard from our neighbours, India. Last year, Anna Hazare created a stir in the Indian society and media by launching a crusade against “the corrupt practices” of politicians. It was idealistic, utopian and ultimately failed to reap any rewards. Pankaj Mishra, wrote the following about that movement in The NewYork Times, “Led by Anna Hazare, the movement was presented by sections of the media as a long overdue political awakening of the middle class, even as India’s second freedom struggle.

With a mostly urban constituency in mind, Hazare’s vision was narrowly focused on the alleged misdeeds of elected officials – above all those in the ruling National Congress Party, which has traditionally sought votes from the Indian poor – and bureaucrats. Among other things, he called for the establishment of an unelected anticorruption agency, which, lavishly budgeted, would have extraordinarily wide powers of surveillance, policing, and prosecution – and, by implication, make the state more efficient and technocratic and less encumbered by the unruly and lengthy processes of parliamentary democracy.”

After all the above mentioned points, I should also mention what in my humble opinion is the biggest problem facing Pakistan. It’s the population explosion and the aspect that makes it more alarming is that it is not considered among the top five or ten challenges facing Pakistan. None of the major political parties in Pakistan has focused its policies or plans on how to control the population problem.

With more than 180 million people, Pakistan has nearly six times the population of Afghanistan (or Iraq), twice the population of Iran, and almost two-thirds the population of the entire Arab world put together. Rapid increase in population has led to decrease in the efficiency of the infrastructure that was established for lesser number of people. It has also led to a gross income disparity, decrease in natural resources, youth bulge and unemployment on massive scales.

To some extent, hypocrisy is also one of our biggest problems and it has been given no attention as well. A 59 year old leader of the youth, flying to a city on a private jet to lead a rally demanding a change in status quo, how much more cliched can it get.



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