No, this piece is not primarily about the famous Index published by Transparency International — although that will also come up in a bit. It is about governmental probity in this Islamic Republic that we and 200 million other souls inhabit. The corruption of certain members of our political elite, we are told, is the worst of all the problems besetting us. So enormous is the problem perceived to be that the second largest political party in the country has built its entire raison d’être on this single issue, without proposing anything else distinctive in its party programme. Politicians’ corruption is perceived as, presumably, a worse problem than poverty, hunger, terrorism, crime, armed insurrection, loss of sovereignty, ethnic and sectarian violence, state failure, and so on. OK, well, perhaps not quite as bad as those, but certainly something to get worked up about. That is a position one can certainly accept and proceed to examine at that level. For the ordinary citizen of this land of ours, who has dealings with municipal officials, land revenue officials, tax officials, the lower courts, the police, it is plainly understood that there is a kind of service fee involved if anything needs to get done — at the least ‘chai pani’; at the most, the sky is the limit. And this service fee is shared all the way to the top of the bureaucratic pyramid. This is not to mention the businessmen and corporate executives who throng Islamabad, wining and dining and fawning over everyone from Section Officers to Federal Secretaries, in order to have SROs (Statutory Regulatory Orders) issued to favour their particular businesses…SROs that often completely contradict existing statutes. Now, one may call this ‘bribery’ or ‘corruption’ or whatever one wants, but the fact is that these kinds of gratifications are woven through the entire warp and woof of our state institutions. And these gratifications are not destined for the hot, little hands of our parliamentary leaders. Zia may himself have been personally honest, but his time was when political and bureaucratic corruption both struck deep roots and grew to monstrous size Nor is this kind of bureaucratic corruption an exclusively post-independence phenomenon. There is a story from the days of the British Raj about a Senior Civil Judge who was confronted by his superior, an English Sessions Judge, with the accusation of having taken a bribe of two lakh rupees from a litigant. The Civil Judge, who hailed from a leading Sharrif family of his province, was shocked and outraged. Drawing himself up to his full height, he boomed, ‘That’s an absolute lie. And an insult! I received Five lakh rupees, nothing less.’ Now the story is probably apocryphal, but there is no denying the ring of truth of the completely amoral attitude towards the privileges, and wages, of power. Nor would it just have been the native Indian employees of the British. The “white” functionaries of the East India Company were routinely expected to enrich themselves at the expense of the natives. The epic heights of corruption attained by the first two Governors-General, Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, set the pace for those who followed. And even these were only following long-established Indian traditions. Consider the custom of the Nazrana, the compulsory gift any litigant or favour-seeker was required to place before the Kazi or other officials before whom he was to appear. The French traveller Francois Bernier, who visited India during the reign of Jahangir, noted the deep corruption that permeated the functioning of the Mughal state and the dispensation of justice, the celebrated Adl-i-Jahangiri notwithstanding. Now, before any of my readers think I am in any way attempting to “justify” corruption, let me clarify that this is not my intention. I merely wish to point out that, in our part of the world, corruption is as old as time itself. It is, and has long been, an institutionalised systemic corruption, shared up, down, and across the various channels of authority. I believe my point is clear. All those state functionaries who control the actual levers of power also have mechanisms for keeping those levers well greased. This is how the system works…and how it has worked since time immemorial. But now there is a Johnny-come-lately, who has entered the charmed circle of corruption and is demanding his share: the elected politician. In the first few years of Pakistan’s independence, there were few major examples of political corruption. Political incompetence, yes; even outright stupidity; and misuse of power or privilege. But few major scams featuring political figures surfaced during the 1950s and 1960s. It is probable that the politicos were simply not significant enough, in terms of real power, to be considered worth wasting big bribes over. Corruption clearly was a bureaucratic phenomenon, since this was where power resided and, as we know, all power corrupts. But, come 1972 and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan had the first really effective political government in this country’s tragic history. Whatever the merits or demerits of that administration’s governmental style, there were surprisingly few instances of the finger of corruption being credibly pointed at its leaders, barring a couple of notable exceptions. This is despite the best (or worst) efforts of his successor to discover the blots in ZAB’s copybook. However, this cannot be said for the evil regime of the General with the comedian’s moustache and hooded executioner’s eyes. Zia may himself have been personally honest, but his time was when political and bureaucratic corruption both struck deep roots and grew to monstrous size. American and Saudi aid was pouring in because of the war in Afghanistan and there were plenty of juicy commissions around for the sharing. Even less savoury fortunes were being made in the illegitimate weapons and drugs trades. One began to hear of numbered Swiss accounts and of billions of dollars moving there from this Land of the Pure. And the numerous governments we have suffered between then and now? Since Transparency International began to publish its annual Index, the years 2004 to 2007, when Pervez Musharraf was in power, saw Pakistan slotted among the most corrupt 10 percent of the indexed countries. Since then, it has risen somewhat in the Index and was near the top of the lower 30 percent of indexed countries in 2017.This still suggests a sadly corrupt country. The point is that there is a difference between the systemic corruption of unelected civil, military, and judicial officials and that of our elected politicians. The former is a regrettable fact of life. The latter is used, rightfully or otherwise, as a reason for the sacking of Prime Ministers. This is what happened in 1958 (Noon), 1988 (Junejo), 1990 (Benazir), 1993 (Sharif), 1996 (Benazir again), 1999 (Sharif again), 2012 (Gillani), and 2017 (Sharif, yet again). Let us also clearly understand that corruption, however reprehensible, is not the worst of political sins. Consider: nobody accused Hitler, or Stalin, or even Zia, of financial corruption. Need one say more? The writer is a poet, author and columnist Published in Daily Times, March 30th 2018.