Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"We should not let these corrupt politicians win."

An hour ago I got this SMS from some random number:

"Its time to backup our President Musharraf! We should not let these corrupt politicians win. So send sms to Dawn news poll for rating impeachment measures. Write "DOP NO" and send on 6622 to support the man who dared to stand up against worst situations, when others were sitting in the lap of luxury!"

A case in point of the bias against politicians in the upper classes. I am not saying that politicians are not corrupt. Far from it. The evidence against Mr. Ten Percent, the late Shehzadi, the not-so-Sharif brothers and the Chaudharys of Gujrat is undeniable. What really annoys me is people's blind spot when it comes to corruption in the army.

It is common knowledge that a huge chunk of the many billion dollars in military aid given to the army during the 1980s and again in the 2000s did not go towards strengthening the army but instead went to fill up our oh-so-brave army generals' McScrooge-like vaults in the big bad firangi lands. Yet, defying all facts and logic, the army has somehow managed to remain a symbol of honesty and patriotism, and is expected to rescue Pakistan from corruption. Hah!

Corruption is pervasive in every institution of the country: bureaucracy, judiciary, law enforcement, politics, armed forces. You name a public institution and you will find corruption there. But people only rant and rave about corrupt politicians.

I am not saying that people should stop criticizing them. Go right ahead. But do please realize that the army, the institution that is to deliver our country from the greedy politicians, is just as blighted by corruption.

What makes matters worse is that the public does not have access to the records of military spending. Even our legislators, it seems, do not have access to it. So if the politicians are looting the country in plain sight of the people, one can only imagine the plunder going on in total absence of public oversight.

Then we come to Musharraf's personal reputation as Great (and Upright) Avenger aka.  Scourge of Corrupt Politicians. One must wonder where he was while the opportunistic hordes in the King's Party stuffed their pockets and bought thousands of acres of land for mere pennies. And let us not forget the unscrupulous politicians who were ushered in under Musharraf's grand devolution of democracy dreams.

While Musharraf selectively prosecuted his political rivals in the beginning of his reign through the NAB, our Great (and Upright) Avenger demurely looked the other way when his own coterie abused their positions of power. Then in the latter years, when the going got tough for our principled Scourge of Corruption, he backtracked with amazing speed and acquitted those very corrupt politicians whom he was prosecuting earlier through the NRO.

Let us also not forget the ex-President's non-negotiable and undebatable budget for the President House this year. Rs. 353.84 million! A 12% increase over the previous year. And that too when the Prime Minister prudently cut his own expenses by 30% in view of massive governmental overspending.

So people who, handkerchief in hand, are wondering how their knight in shining army fatigues abandoned them in the clutches of corrupt politicians, have heart. We have been in the hands of corrupt leaders, autocratic and democratic, for 61 glorious years. Things really can't get much worse as far as looting goes.

David Milliband, UK's foreign secretary, said something I really liked on the occasion of Musharraf's resignation. He said that strong institutions, not strong individuals, are what Pakistan needs. He is right. For the long-term solution of most of Pakistan's governance problems strong institutions are exactly what are required, and the chances of institutional development are definitely brighter under a democratic government, which is compelled to listen to the public, rather than an autocratic one. So have a little faith, people, and stop sending me hysterical SMSes!

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