Every year, Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) releases a Corruption Perceptions Index, which also covers Pakistan. In 1996, we were declared the second most corrupt country in the world. Though we are now ranked 32 out of 180 in the index, corruption still thrives in Pakistan. Following the July 2018 elections, is it possible to weed out this menace and finally bring rule law and transparency to the country? This is a major post-election challenge for the incoming government. Not only have graft, fraudulence and nepotism damaged our economy and eaten away at our national institution, these issues have also hurt our international image. So far however, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman and Prime Minister (PM) in waiting Imran Khan has not revealed how he plans to implement his ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards corruption. Is it even possible for one person occupying the office of the Chief Executive to rid the country of such a pervasive disease? Pakistan’s culture of corruption can be traced back to the early 1970s. It was able to permeate our state and society easily because of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s policy of promoting political appointees to positions in state institutions. This continued during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. His use of religion to cement his hold over political power also caused much damage to our social fabric. Since 1972, no regime has ever taken effective measures against corruption and nepotism. Now these problems have become acceptable at all levels, from the peon to the PM. The problem has become so serious that tax-evasion and kickbacks in various national projects cost the country around Rs 1 trillion annually. It is not only civilian politicians who should be taken to task but also the bureaucracy, militaryand judiciary. We cannot afford any ‘sacred cows’ National institutions like Railways, Pakistan International Airlines and Steel Mills are under a debt of around one trillion rupees and its the same case with other state owned institutions where lack of accountability allows people into position of power who only intend to misuse their authority. There was a time five decades ago when those found involved in corruption and nepotism were a tiny minority but the paradigm shift in corruption that happened in the 1970s changed this. Now, those who misuse public funds and authority have no fear because institutions like Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Central Board of Revenue (CBR) State Bank of Pakistan and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) were politicized. People who lacked merit were appointed to such institutions on political or personal grounds. When national institutions deviate from their responsibilities, the outcome is more corruption and nepotism. Having income from corruption has practically become acceptable in our damaged society. Sending ill-gotten money abroad through money laundering has also started becoming increasingly common. As a result of such crimes, the country has become impoverished. Meanwhile, those responsible for this state of affairs have become monstrously rich. Pakistan’s moment of truth has now arrived. The mandate the people have given to the PTI clearly means they want something done about this cancer, eating away at our country. As such, the incoming government will find itself between the devil and the deep blue sea. If it tries to catch those involved in misusing public funds, the numerous corrupt individuals in our National and Provincial Assemblies will gang-up — probably aided by their friends in the bureaucracy — and do their best to destabilise the PTI-led central government. However, if it does not act against corruption, their lack of action will only be used against them by the opposition, which will paint them as hypocrites and call the PTI out on compromising on its principles. This will make Pakistan’s corruption crisis even worse. Yet, nothing is impossible if the government’s intentions are true and there is capability, capacity and credibility to challenge a system which for the past five decades has transformed Pakistan into a safe haven for criminals. Read more: Indo-Pakistan ties under Imran Khan Four tactful measures can go a long way to eradicate corruption if the government applies them. First, at the grassroots level, proper awareness needs to be created to eliminate all tolerance for embezzlement of public funds and misuse of authority. The principles of accountability and transparency needs to be made part of the educational syllabi at the school level so that the next generation of Pakistanis have better sense of their responsibilities. Secondly, the culture of Pakistan, which is still feudal and ‘darbari’ needs to be changed by abolishing VVIP culture. A poor country of 220 million people cannot pay for its ruling class’s elitist lifestyles. Thirdly, it is not only civilian politicians who should be taken to task but also the bureaucracy, military and judiciary. We cannot afford any ‘sacred cows’. Lastly, the justice system needs to be drastically reformed so cases related to corruption and nepotism which have been lingering in courts for years are timely processed. How can one expect to eradicate corruption when the lower courts themselves are corrupt and inefficient? We should not have high expectations from a corrupt and rotten system which remains intact and is known to favour the rich against the poor. Yet, the opportunity which has emerged after July 25 must be seized for the betterment of the country. The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi and currently Visiting Fellow at SWP, a leading German policy oriented think tank based in Berlin. E-mail: email@example.com Published in Daily Times, August 10th 2018.