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Culture, Corruption and the Hereafter

Pervez Hoodbhoy

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Some readers, whose intelligence I respect, took my last op-ed to be dismissive of corruption as a cause of Pakistan’s social decay. I apologise for having failed to express myself adequately: I certainly do not dispute that Pakistan is reaping the terrible consequences of wholesale corruption. Corruption, by definition, expropriates that which rightfully belongs to others. By doing so, it hurts the poor more than the rich, lowers productivity, creates mistrust of authority, breaks down the social contract and leads towards ungovernability. We all know that the average Pakistani is frustrated and that he encounters corruption while reporting a crime, seeking justice in a traffic accident, getting an electricity or gas connection, securing admission to school for children, or getting a business contract signed. We have kunda mafias, tanker mafias, and mafias of all shapes and forms that raise the collective blood pressure.

So, instead of emphasising corruption, why did I choose to identify the principal problems of Pakistan as a) unbridled population growth; b) terrorism; and c) slowness of cultural modernisation? (Please wait until I define modernity; it doesn’t mean consumerism or rock music!).

My plea: corruption is a symptom of some social disease, but there are very many different kinds of such diseases. To borrow a medical analogy: high fever could come from typhoid, pneumonia, measles, flu and a hundred other diseases. They can all make you hot and sick, but no genuine doctor specifically targets ‘fever’. Buying the wares of roadside hakeems who advertise anti-fever brews is worse than useless. It is equally useless to target corruption without understanding its origins.

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