Sorting through the archive — getting towards 7,000 published pieces in assorted newspapers and magazines — it was striking how often I had written about corruption. And never written about a circumstance in which corruption had been eliminated or reduced to a level that was sustainable if still at the wrong side of legality. Looking closer there are frequent references to drives to eliminate corruption, convoluted excuses as to why corruption persists or is difficult to tackle and no references to a successful drive or programme to counter corruption through to a conclusion.
Doing the joined up critical thinking and a Venn diagram, it became clearer that there was a link between corruption and extremism and terrorism, with both using corruption as a Trojan Horse to go their evil way. They are co-dependent, self-sustaining, durable and bomb-proof. Together they form a highly effective nexus that has the support of the state — not explicitly because that would never do without it, the state has a complex façade to maintain that speaks of a doughty fight against one of the greatest evils to beset us all, so the state reads from the autocue and stays on the right side — just — of the comity of nations. Well most of them. Some. A few anyway.
The emerging picture after a couple of hours shuffling the deck is of a country that is irredeemably corrupt and has lost the battle against corruption because it was never fought. At least not fought with any determination or enthusiasm or fought with weapons-grade measures that might penetrate the armoured glacis that protects corruption everywhere. A reversal of moral polarity has been achieved over time — quite a long time as these things do not happen overnight — and crosses decades and successive governments all of which are complicit, willing partners even, in the canker that grinds away at our innards.
Thus also with terrorism and extremism. The finger is generally pointed in the direction of General Zia…but the Zia regime ended in 1988 just down the road from where I live when the C130 he was travelling in came down, possibly blown up by a crate of exploding mangoes. Or cosmic aliens. Whatever — that was almost 30 years ago and there has been not a single joule of energy expended by any government since to roll back the effects of the Zia years. Instead they have havered and prevaricated, managed to decant across the border to Afghanistan a lot of groups and individuals that have brought mayhem and untold misery to the country — and completely and utterly failed to address the cardinal issue of turning the prevailing extremist narrative into something more pacific. That narrative is now dominant, espoused if not overtly then subliminally by at least some at the top of the political midden and set to prevail for decades.
And here is the paradox - this is Pakistan after all and there is always a paradox - the state at the macro level is probably in better shape than it has been for a very long time. The economy is growing, albeit on the back of the Black Economy that is corruption powered, and security has measurably improved. There are fewer terrorist incidents, the numbers of dead and injured continues to fall, infrastructure controversial and otherwise continues to grow at a rate of knots — and education, that key to so much including the power to think independently is carefully hobbled year on year just in case the lumpen proletariat start to get ideas above their station.
Thus we arrive at what may be a definitive point in the history of cognitive dissonance. An institutionally corrupt state that fosters and supports an extremist paradigm and does nothing to countervail either is beginning to look like a success story. Both corruption and extremism are normative and terrorism, the gangrel child of both is leashed but loosed for a little alfresco butchery just to remind us all that things are a lot better now folks but just look what would happen if…well…if. Just if.
So corruption, it’s in for the long haul, part of the national genetic code, hard-wired for longevity and comfortably installed in every electricity meter in the land. Tootle-pip!
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2018.
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