Pakiban II.

Americans idealize a government based on a division of powers, in which different branches of government can check—or authorize—the claims to power of other branches.  In contrast, Pakistan is a country dominated by un-elected, but highly regarded elites.  The military and the courts occupy pride of place, while elected legislatures and governments receive little respect.  This reflects a deep distrust of the idea of elections as a source of authority.

Pakistan also is an unusually corrupt country.[1]  In 2015, the “Panama Papers” hit the internet.  Essentially, these were secret records of a Panamanian law firm that had facilitated the creation and management of secret “off-shore” bank accounts for people around the world who had a lot of money whose origins they didn’t want to have to explain.[2]

One chief culprit was a Pakistani politicians named Nawaz Sharif.[3]  Pakistan has experienced only one peaceful, election-based, transfer of power at the executive level.[4]  Sharif has been prime minister of Pakistan three times so far.  He opposed the powerful role of the military in domestic politics.  He favored working out a deal with India.  The first two times, the army gave him the heave.  In July 2017, Pakistan’s Supreme Court evicted Sharif from office yet again.  The evidence is that Sharif is a crook.  Still, voters have put Sharif in power when his kleptomaniacal tendencies were well-known.[5]  The bum’s-rush he gets every time suggests that powerful institutions within Pakistan claim the right to issue voters their acceptable leaders.[6]

Sharif’s dismissal opened a can of worms.  First, the fact that other politicians were incriminated by the “Panama Papers” leak, but were not prosecuted suggests that the courts singled out Sharif.  On what grounds?  At whose behest?  Second, the Transparency International corruption ratings (see fn. 1.) suggest that almost everyone in Pakistan’s public life is as crooked as dog’s hind leg.  Is compliance with the desires of the powerful the condition for survival—and continuing chances for graft—in Pakistan’s politics?  Terms like “hidden hands” and “string-pullers” are common in the language of troubled states.  In Pakistan, these terms often refer to the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (I.S.I.) or the great landlords who hold the fate of millions of peasants in their hands.

Western observers object that the Sharif case makes it appear that “justice is often a means to a political end.”  That is, if you play by “their” rules, you’ll be “rich as Nazis!”—as Mr. Burns put it on “The Simpsons.”  If not, you end up in a bug-infested cell wearing red burlap as your gallows apparel for the morrow.  Tens, hundreds, of millions of ordinary Pakistanis go “Well, duh.”   Then, there’s “Traffik.”

[1] Transparency International rated Pakistan 113 out of 176 countries on its corruption index.  Wait, there are 63 countries even more corrupt than Pakistan!

[2] For a useful introduction, see:

[3] See:

[4] Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, “Pakistan, Ousting Leader, Dashes Fair Democracy Hopes,” NYT, 29 July 2019.

[5] Imagine Donald Trump being re-elected president in spite of his many vulgarities and incessant rule-bending.  It would not be that American voters didn’t know what they were getting.  Should such an election be allowed to stand? Should, instead, the courts or the legislature, or—Heaven forfend—the military be allowed to over-ride the will of the People as mediated through the Electoral College?

[6] Benito Mussolini once claimed that Italian fascism was an improved form of democracy because it was a qualitative, not merely, quantitative, democracy.  That is, some people’s opinions counted for more than did those of other people.

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