Corruption – The Poison of Power
Illustration: Alice Kirk

The best thing about politics in today’s day and age is that it is, for the most part, theoretically based on democracy. It gives the public more of a voice than ever before. But why do our wishes never translate to actual change? Call it corruption, deception or exploitation. Ultimately, it is the manipulation of the power that a government has been trusted with, in a selfish and immoral manner. And unfortunately, it’s all too common in South Asia.

Positions of power are fought over in a supposed ‘civilized’ manner through campaigning, debating and voting. But false promises to your country are not civilized.  Cheating to win is not civilized. Having a hidden agenda is not civilized.

Their actions have not only had severely detrimental consequences on their country, but also in other countries where these corrupt leaders have exerted their power. Of course, corruption amongst people in power does not only take place in South Asia – now and historically, we see and hear about it far more than should be the case. 

South Asian countries were already burdened with the effects of colonisation and the outcomes of the Partition. It is vital to focus on this problem across the Indian subcontinent because it has hindered development and progress for generations. Political superiors have blinded nations, embezzled money and stolen their resources and time that should be reserved for the whole country’s development and change. While human nature possesses an element of selfishness, some of their actions cannot be justified. Their damage hasn’t and may never be reversed.

Nawaz Sharif is best known as a Pakistani businessman and politician who holds the title of Pakistan’s longest-serving Prime Minister. He ‘served’ the country for more than nine years until his crimes were exposed and justice was served.

During his second term in 1997, he conquered the majority of the political field in Pakistan, apart from the army. Sharif was determined to gain total control and so, his supporters raided the Supreme Court and he attempted to pass an amendment known as the Shariat Bill. It would allow him to practice Sharia law regardless of any government, court or constitutional decision.  When the senators of the time refused to pass the bill, Sharif deemed this as ‘defiance’ and publicly declared they should pass it. This combination of anger and power transformed him into a tyrant.  Just as Pakistan had finally settled into a new sort of normality after Partition, the harmony was shattered once more.

Pervez Musharraf, the army chief at the time, overthrew Nawaz Sharif and his political party, Pakistan Muslim League (N), in 1999. The coup was fueled by the Supreme Court who eventually tried and charged him for kidnapping, terrorism, hijacking and corruption. However, the lawyers representing Sharif questioned the legality of Musharraf and the army’s actions and began an extensive court battle, which led to Sharif and his brother’s charges being dropped on the condition that they were to be exiled for their crimes. Nawaz Sharif and around 40 members of his family were exiled to Saudi Arabia for a period of ten years.

Despite an exile of ten years,, Sharif returned in 2007 and by 2013 he was able to gain the political leverage he possessed before banishment. However, Imran Khan, the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, prevented his entry into Islamabad for 6 months, with the support of his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). They believed that Sharif had rigged the election.

He set off his third term as Prime Minister with the promise of transforming Pakistan into “an Asian tiger” with a government which, ironically, would have “zero tolerance for corruption”. However,  in 2016, claims of corruption re-emerged concerning the Sharif family and properties they owned in London. It was believed that by this point they had stolen millions of pounds from Pakistan and invested in offshore property to avoid suspicion. 

Rehman Malik was deputy head of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in 1996. He studied Nawaz Sharif’s ‘investments’ and compiled a 200-page report in 1998 detailing his illegal spending abroad, including his fake bank accounts, Swiss investment, property worth £40,000,000 in London and dubious bank activity in New York. The report tarnished Sharif’s reputation in the long-term and Malik was tortured horrifically for it. The Supreme Court fought Sharif constantly and ultimately declared that Malik had been illegally detained. Around the time of the coup, he fled to England as his life was at risk. When discussing the coup, he said “I am not a politician, but I welcome the army’s action. They have saved Pakistan from someone who was ruining the country.”

Sharif is believed to have been carrying out his corrupt hidden agenda for decades. In July 2018, he was finally re-arrested and he received a 10-year sentence after being charged with corruption along with his daughter and son-in-law. However, they were all released temporarily for the funeral of Kulsoom Nawaz, Sharif’s wife and former first lady.

Around the time of Sharif’s control, Benazir Bhutto emerged in Pakistan’s political world. Asif Ali Zardari, her husband and senator, faced charges along with Bhutto, of corruption, money laundering and involvement in the murder of Zardari’s brother-in-law. 

Bhutto’s first government was dismissed due to allegations of corruption which were investigated, after their dismissal, by Pakistani embassies based across Western Europe. Similar to Nawaz Sharif, the couple had been laundering money through Swiss banks. French documents suggesting bribery between them, a French aircraft company and a Dubai gold company were also brought to light. However, both the family and companies involved said that these documents had been forged and the family added that it was purely political.  The evidence, however, lies in black and white.

Authorities also discovered properties worth exorbitant amounts of money under Zardari’s name. Properties included a mansion in Surrey, England worth over £4 million and a $2.5 million manor in Normandy, France. At the time of Bhutto and Zardari’s marriage, Zardari’s family had no recorded possession of such money so it is believed that the properties were funded by Bhutto as a disguise for her laundered money. However, she denied having any overseas assets and financial involvement.

Sharif and Bhutto were rivals in Pakistan’s political world in the 1990s. When he came into power after Bhutto, she and her husband’s trials were ongoing and his government was suspected of increasing the severity of their punishment due to bitter feelings between the parties.Their rivalry was so bitter that Zardari claimed the Sharif brothers tried to assassinate him twice before his jail sentence. Authorities speculated that they were involved in an attempted assassination of Benazir Bhutto in October 2007 and a successful assassination in December of the same year. The assassination ultimately ended the feud.

Both political figures were similar in many ways: corrupt, lying and manipulative. Their ambitions lay in affluence and influence, though they possessed no morals.

By attacking each other and brawling for power, they wrecked a once-beautiful country. The money they stole could’ve been used to improve health, education and infrastructure, fight poverty and develop the country beyond imagination. Despite the setbacks, the country has regained some stability.

Prime Ministers who followed them did not seem to possess the same twisted beliefs – even if sometimes their actions were ineffective, their aim was to better the country in every way possible. They gave the country life again and the people hope. Because of them, the country still stands today and isn’t a wasteland, but there is still so much further to go.

Such corrupt leaders’ actions have almost become a normality and I believe that with such a normality comes a change in humanity’s perspective. The line between good and bad becomes blurred and one does not know who to trust and what to believe anymore. This lack of trust and honesty has become the new normality in politics. Corruption, fraud and dishonesty are now common and those guilty of these crimes often slip away with minimal punishment or even none. The example set by them is teaching future generations that wrongdoings come with little to no consequences. 

After studying Nawaz Sharif’s history in much more detail, I wonder why he was given a 10-year sentence in 2018 when a lifetime sentence had been proposed 20 years prior. Of course, his crimes deserve punishment, but his punishment seems rather light for the lasting damage he caused to the country’s economy and mindset.

Worse than such individuals are the groups that possess the same poisonous qualities. They carry more power, more strength and can easily slip past as legal institutions. But even they can abuse what they have, in return for more status, money, power and influence. Many believe that the Supreme Court and the police were involved in Sharif’s case and that certain individuals’ influence swayed his sentence away from a more extreme alternative. Sometimes in politics, there is no such thing as morality and decency.

Today, Sharif and Bhutto’s damage to the country is felt much less, yet it’s important not to completely write it off. Learning from history and remembering it helps humanity move forward and when history is remembered for exactly what it is, we’re less likely to repeat the same mistakes and move forward efficiently.

Pakistan makes progress every day. Current Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has stated his focus on improving the country in a number of ways, introducing projects to improve Pakistan’s living standards.. One of these is the Diamer-Bhasha dam project for which construction work began on 15th July this year. The PM’s assistant said in a tweet that it “will add 1.2m acres for agriculture, 4,500 cheaper and greener hydropower” and open up 16,000 jobs in construction. The project improves the economy, job market, protection and security of Pakistan, and hopefully looks towards a brighter future.