Pakistan Doesn’t Owe You a Free Mansion

Source: The New York Times


Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti,” and the librettist for the opera “Bhutto.”

KARACHI, Pakistan — I once knew a building contractor who worked for the government of Pakistan. He was very corrupt and very open about it. After hearing endless stories about bribes given for contracts and payments received for projects that were never finished, I asked why was he so open about all this stealing.

He was a bit puzzled. “Why do you call it theft?” he asked. “Look, the state is like our mother, and surely everyone takes something from their mother when she is not looking. Don’t you?”

For Pakistan’s ruling elite, mother is never looking.

In the wake of the Panama Papers leak, this country, like many others, is consumed by a debate over corruption. People accused of owning offshore companies include our prime minister’s children, senior opposition politicians, a media tycoon, two judges and about 400 businesspeople.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in prison for 14 months and spent eight years in exile, but that didn’t stop his family empire from expanding and running sugar mills and poultry farms. To clear his name after the Panama Papers story broke, he promptly went on the air and in a whiny speech recounted all the sacrifices his family has made for the country and how their business has suffered.

Mr. Sharif’s spin masters reminded us that the allegations weren’t about the prime minister but about his children. They reminded us that owning an offshore company is not illegal. Maybe it’s unethical, they conceded, but you can see this country doesn’t really protect its rich, so what were they to do?

This might have stayed a mere debate if Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif (not even remotely related to Mr. Sharif), hadn’t then sacked six senior army officers, including two generals, on charges of smuggling and other forms of corruption. One of the generals was accused of getting two officers killed while test-driving a smuggled Nissan Fairlady.

Read more

Leave a Reply