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A killing that reverberates far beyond Pakistan


Pakistan tends to feature prominently in unflattering ratings and has done so for decades. So it is not surprising that the country ranks among the top 10 offenders in Transparency International’s latest Global Corruption Monitor. According to TI’s 2007 survey, 30 per cent of Pakistani respondents said they had to pay bribes to obtain services from the police, taxation departments, utility services, registry and permit authorities, educational institutions and the military and the media, among others. This shows a 100 per cent rise in services-related corruption over the previous year. Religious groups were perceived to be the least corrupt in 2007, a popular view that should serve as a warning to anyone aspiring to a liberal and secular Pakistan. Also no surprise is the fact that the country’s poor are the worst affected by corruption. Their powerlessness means that they are usually singled out for harassment and extortion. Two, the bribes they pay for services that ought to be their right as citizens represent a significant portion of their income and can even exceed it, trapping them in a vicious cycle of debt. At the same time, people who pay large sums who get posted in the police or taxation departments, do so because the ‘investment’ — and more — can be easily recouped once they are on the favourable end of bribery.

It has rightly been pointed out that corruption is anything but a victimless crime. The additional privations suffered by the poor have already been noted, albeit briefly. A corrupt state machinery and unscrupulous politicians also encourage disdain for the law and the erosion of civic sense among the general population — why should a citizen be law-abiding when officialdom isn’t? The public, in effect, is given reason that dishonesty pays in a lawless society. Also, efficiency and productivity suffer grievously when merit is ignored and key positions are filled by unqualified favoured personnel. Corruption can also impede investment and economic growth. True, many foreign investors are willing to play by the ‘rules’ of corrupt governance in countries such as our own. What we forget, however, is the opportunity cost — the countless others who choose not to come to corrupt countries because of the time and money wasted in sorting out bureaucratic hassles. Bribery can also kill us. Substandard construction in private and public projects, with the connivance of the authorities, is a prime example. What is perhaps most tragic and telling is that corruption thrives in societies where it has become culturally acceptable.




As the urgent words of tribute and warning showed yesterday, however, Ms Bhutto's assassination will reverberate far beyond her native land. The United States, and to a lesser extent Britain, had encouraged Ms Bhutto to return in the expectation that she would be Pakistan's next Prime Minister. They envisaged her as a moderating and pro-Western force in a country where Islamic extremism is never far from the surface. They hoped an electoral mandate would bring stability. At a time when the Taliban are advancing in Afghanistan, violence still plagues Iraq, and Iran's intentions are uncertain, new volatility in the region can be in no one's interests. Benazir Bhutto might not have been able, as she aspired, to save Pakistan for democracy, but now she will not have the chance.