How did Corruption Start in Pakistan?

When Independence came, for a time man went mad and committed horrors of which animals would have felt ashamed. Several million people were uprooted from their ancestral homes, forced to leave their possessions behind, and compelled to flee hundreds of miles to another strange land which was now their motherland. A few million were butchered on the way by roving bands of the followers of another faith or shot dead in cold blood by the soldiers and officers of the `peace-keeping’ boundary force. Unheard crimes were committed in the name of religion and freedom. Girls were raped. Women were mutilated. Fathers were forced to witness the ravishing of their daughters, husbands the dishonouring of their wives, mothers the killing of their young children. Hundreds of thousands were abducted and made to stay behind as wives and concubines of the conquering hordes. Many of them never recovered. People lost their properties, their families, their honour and their livelihood.

When at last they arrived in the refugee camps run by their own government and voluntary agencies, it was not rare for their daughters to be picked up by the camp commander’s staff or the doctors and assistants of the hospitals set up for their care and help. Now the refugee lost what he had kept intact during his journey through massacres and brutalities: his self-respect. Dazed and frightened, he tottered out of the camp in search of security and food. Respectable families were humbled. The common folk were insulted. The rich, furnished properties left by the Hindus and Sikhs were occupied by the greedy, the enterprising and the strong. A lock broken, a hurried entry, a gift of a few rupees to the officer in the police station, a few more rupees to the government clerk who registered the distribution of evacuee properties, perhaps a larger bribe to the senior `rehabilitation’ officer, and the house was transferred to a new owner, who surveyed the luxuries surrounding him with a deep pleasure, and soon slid into the unaccustomed role of the lord and master of a household which others had built and then abandoned to avoid death.

Corruption thus arose and flourished. Soon no rehabilitation was possible without greasing of the palm. The local population, which had braved no risk and lost neither man nor money, entered this prosperous business with a lot of glee and some built-in advantages. It knew which house or shop or plot of land was valuable. It was on friendly terms with the police of the local area. It had its own relatives and acquaintances working in the official rehabilitation machinery. Fabulous claims were fabricated, asserting that precious properties had been left behind in India. Large bribes were given to the civil servants or politicians whose word was law. How could a minister who had got a hundred squares of  agricultural land alloted to him on bogus grounds, or an officer who had moved into a well-appointed five-bedroom bungalow, object to the locals who occupied a shop with all the stock-in-trade intact or shifted to an abandoned house full of furniture and trunks of clothes ?

Corruption was accompanied by inefficiency and inexperience. As an educationally backward people, the Muslim majority of the north-west had never been represented in the public services and other professions in proportion to their number. With the departure of the non-muslims, a striking prospect of vast promise opened before the new masters of the country. Some places were filled by the deserving refugees who had done similar work in India. But most of the openings were filled by other means.

Sudden accelerated promotions were made at all levels of the public services. Joint secretaries in the former Government of India (the highest rank that a half dozen Muslims had reached) were made full secretaries; under-secretaries became deputy and joint secretaries; clerks were turned into officers; the stamp-vendor at the post office sat in the office of the assistant postmaster; and assistant engineers and sub-divisional officers jumped several places to become senior technocrats. In the army a good fortune befell all ranks. Junior officers who had never dreamed of going beyond their `majority’ now wore red lapels; their seniors were now generals. More than three-fourths of the academic staff of all government colleges and of the only university in West Pakistan had left. The gaps were filled in by poorly qualified, inexperienced lecturers, in most cases men and women who had just taken their master’s degrees. The same story was repeated in banking, insurance, trade, commerce and industry; in fact, here there were no breaches but a vacuum. Economic and financial interests had been a non-muslim monopoly. Literally overnight, the entire sector was taken over by Pakistanis.

Politics could not escape the consequences of the upheaval. Though the Muslim League had been the major Muslim party in India and had won Pakistan, it had virtually no experience of administering even a province. Apart from a short-lived ministry in Bengal and a much shorter-lived one in Sindh, the League leaders had never been in office. A nationalist movement was transformed into the sole ruling party, with disastrous consequences in policy making and daily administration. In the first central cabinet of seven members, there was no well-known name except the prime minister. The strongest and ablest minister was an ex-civil servant, Ghulam Muhammad. In December, two more ministers were added, Zafrullah Khan and Abdus Sattar; the former an outsider. One minister was not even a Muslim Leaguer. Practically the entire cabinet was a collection of obscure, inexperienced Muslim League politicians. The best among the administration were outsiders.

In the provinces, the situation was even more dismal. The less said about the quality of the provincial ministers, most of whom were nonentities or unscrupulous henchmen of the chief minister of the day.

The Muslim League was so critically short of manpower on the top that, besides giving the most
important portfolios to outsiders (Finance to Ghulam Muhammad, Foreign Affairs to Zafrullah Khan), it employed several Englishmen in key posts. The first governor of Punjab was Francis Mudie; of the NWFP George Cunningham (to be succeeded by Ambrose Dundas); and of East Bengal Fredrick Bourne. Another British civilian, T.C. Creagh was joint secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1947 to 1950, and for the next three years the Establishment Secretary or the head of the civil service. In defence forces, the commander-in-chief of the Navy was a foreigner and so was the Air Force Commander. Douglas Gracey was chief of staff of the army in 1947-48 and commander-in-chief in 1948-51. With such sensitive and controlling posts in alien hands it was a matter of wonder that in 1948 Pakistan went to war with India over Kashmir.

Incompetence, corruption, dishonesty, political intrigue – these things have not been unknown to newly independent countries, but none has collapsed because of them. Soon signs of discontent spread. The refugee rehabilitation process became a racket which smirched the repuation of several ministers and many politicians. The inexperience and ignorance of ministers gave the bureacracy courage and power, with power came arrogance and vanity, and with general inefficiency came corruption and graft. It became known that every government functionary, from the messenger boy to the head of department, was not only in the market but was also a good bargain.

Perhaps what dismayed the common man was the spectacle of politicians fighting over offices and privileges like over-excited children. Were these the respected leaders, he wondered, who till so recently had been asking the people to sacrifice everything for the sake of the creation of Pakistan, making passionate speeches about suffering and religion and honour, preaching honesty and rectitude, promising a paradise, assuring a revival of Islamic values ? Where were these things for which they had struggled and fought and lost so much ? Had they been duped ? Was power politics a form of democracy ? Was corruption an Islamic ritual ? Were oppression and censorship essential instruments of a popular government ?


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