The Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s two-day trip to Malaysia in late November where he met his counterpart and old friend, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, generated soundbites that ordinary Pakistanis can likely recite from memory.Drawing parallels to Dr Mahathir’s historic victory earlier this year, Khan declared at the official presser that both leaders had been elected on the promise of eradicating corruption in their respective countries. Indeed, since becoming the Premier in late July, Khan has obsessively pursued a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that has snared bigwigs from across the political spectrum who until recently ridiculed his odds of becoming the prime minister.His laser focus on repatriating Pakistan’s looted wealth allegedly squirreled abroad by the dynastic leaderships of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) over decades past has however drawn fire from media critics and political opponents alike. They claim the national accountability agency under his directives is engaged in a vicious witch-hunt against the PML-N and PPP leadership to parry attention from his government’s lack of policy specifics beyond chest-thumping tropes like ‘change is here’.Khan, meanwhile, insists the normalization of corruption and cronyism by his predecessors who treated Pakistan as their personal fiefs have chewed through the state like termites. Consequently, without creating cautionary tales of the elites, Pakistan cannot change for the better and turn into the Islamic welfare state he envisions.Though the Pakistani premier is absolutely spot on in singling out corruption as the most insidious ill plaguing Pakistan, you get the impression sometimes that neither he nor his cabinet ministers truly understand the consequences of a corrupt society beyond the political potency of these buzzwords. So let’s start from the top.At its core, corruption is plain dishonesty for personal gain, a moral vacuum if you will. Moreover, it always seems to plague societies that have wide wealth and literacy gaps between the haves and have-nots. The socioeconomic harm from corruption in any society is immense when the leadership itself is knee-deep in its perpetuation.It is fairly obvious the trickle-down effect of corruption manifests as the perversion in social attitudes. It sanitizes theft, fraud and unfair practices, thereby impelling initially unwilling citizens to participate and later advocate its continuation as the only means to getting things done, and likewise moving up the social ladder.In Pakistan, for example, when the elites habitually steal electricity by hooking the main lines, as they did on Milad-un-Nabi again this year, ordinary citizens feels no qualms about copying them as they assume no moral boundaries are being breached.But the catch is even as they are merely copying the elites, the law applies differently to the rich and poor in corrupt societies.Therein, the criminal justice system conveniently ignores the deviant behaviour of the elites since a complementary culture of cronyism means those tasked with prosecuting the corrupt are also stakeholders in a malignant status quo.Now let us move to the economic harms of corruption. A corrupt leadership erodes public confidence in both the incumbent political system and their personal ability to govern in the peoples’ best interests.This is highly problematic because the state only has a few ways to raise money on its own without resorting to foreign loans from say the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that impose harsh and unpopular austerity measures on citizens.Chief among them is taxation, and the reluctance of Pakistanis to pay income tax is an immense dilemma for Khan’s government.Every Pakistani I’ve recently queried about this generally offers the same excuse: seeing the shocking amount of ill-gotten wealth amassed by the elites as exposed by the Panama and Paradise Papers leaks, how do they know a single cent of the tax money will go toward bettering their lives?Historically, Pakistani governments have worked around this trust deficit by piling on indirect taxation in the form of various GST and VAT levies on everyday goods. But these have disproportionately burdened the poor and thereby widened the wealth gap.Without creating cautionary tales of the elites, Pakistan cannot change for the better and turn into the Islamic welfare state he envisionsKhan’s intentions are undoubtedly noble and in principle supported by the vast majority of Pakistanis, but he is by no means above suspicion. In fact, his opponents in the PML-N and PPP claim the premier’s fire-breathing is akin to the pot calling the kettle black.Not only was Khan named in the Panama Papers, a charge he has managed to shake off for now by the skin of his teeth, his government has also turned a blind eye to similar evidence against his sister and has, in fact, tried to trivialize the news story.Critics also demand Khan explain his shockingly low income tax returns for years past, and the legal status of his palatial estate in the capital city Islamabad that reportedly encroaches upon state land.Plus, if rumours of Pakistan’s all-powerful army rigging the national vote to install Khan into office are true, will his ‘ehtesaab’ (accountability) drive be selective or nonpartisan? Will he dare order an audit of generals past and present that since independence have taken away a major chunk of the national budget?That said, unlike his major rivals, the one thing the Pakistani premier has going for him is the absence of a depressingly long track record of broken promises and plundered coffers.Furthermore, in his short time at the helm, Khan has not shied away from repaying US President Donald Trump’s continued provocations against Pakistan in the same currency.He displays a refreshing ideological purity, yet it remains to be seen whether he can impartially apply that same standard to his underlings, friends and family.For Pakistan’s sake, it is paramount that he does.The writer is an Ipoh-based independent journalistPublished in Daily Times, November 28th 2018.