1481742134_6 Title Sep 2016


Shamsa Khalid

Since gaining independence in 1947, Pakistan has struggled with high level of corruption. Notwithstanding decades of efforts for improving the structural framework for effective anti-corruption initiatives, it is evident that corruption is still rampant. The efforts of successive governments to curb this menace have failed miserably. It started right from the beginning when lands and properties of those who had migrated to India after the partition of the Subcontinent were occupied illegally by the influential people and those in positions of power and authority.


Since the country’s independence in 1947, dozens of administrative measures have been taken to curb the menace of corruption in Pakistan. These measures include all types of initiatives including the purges of senior bureaucratic and political leadership, creation of new institutions, information technology enhancements, legislative interventions, stronger criminal laws, civil society initiatives, media sensitization and investigation and even the formation of new political parties. Over the years, this approach has led to the creation of over 34 federal and provincial institutions with a variety of public accountability mandates. Spanning decades, the government of Pakistan has maintained thousands of staff, which costs billions to the national exchequer. Under the gaze of this massive administrative network, however, systemic, syndicated corruption has not only thrived, but grown way more rampant.

One thing that evidences the ubiquity of corruption in Pakistan is that the country has regularly featured near the bottom of almost all credible International indices for corruption. For example, in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2014, Pakistan scored 29 out of 100 while, in 2018, it ranked 117/180 with a score of 33. In addition, World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015 found that corruption was the second most problematic factor for countries doing business in Pakistan, followed by poor infrastructure. In 2019, Pakistan dropped to 110th place in the same report.

Different forms of corruption in Pakistan

Corruption in Pakistan takes many forms.

  1. Bureaucratic corruption

Bureaucratic corruption has become pervasive in the country. Even many of those bureaucrats who were tasked with elimination of corruption, themselves benefited from this corrupt system. Paying bribes is a common practice in Pakistani society. Bribes are paid to speed up bureaucratic work, to get new passports and to avoid customs check at the airport and even to get tax clearance certificates.

Conflict of interest is the main cause of corruption in public institutions. There are numerous examples that people fail to avail themselves of a public service – that is their constitutional and legal right – while those with influence or money are provided those services instantly. Sometimes, there is a personal cost or risk associated with doing the right thing. Higher-ups tend to sit on the files or avoid the issue altogether. Nowadays, bureaucrats are generally avoiding taking any decision on matters involving money for fear of NAB, even though the delay might harm to common good.

  1. Political corruption

Corruption in Pakistani politics has increased since the return of a democratic government after long rule of Pervez Musharraf. Several political leaders have been involved in corruption scandals. Former president Asif Ali Zardari, the son of former PM Yousaf Raza Gilani, and others are facing corruption cases in courts. Former Premier Nawaz Sharif has been disqualified and jailed on corruption charges.

Patronage, too, is a common practice within Pakistani politics and it leads to lack of professionalism and partisan politicization of public institutions. Elections in Pakistan are regularly marred by allegations of rigging, military threats and candidates acting illegally.z-t

Constant disruption of the democratic process in Pakistan has prevented political parties from developing fully modern and coherent party structures; they are only personal fiefdoms. Political parties are also not required to disclose their income and expenditure to the public, although they do have to furnish before the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) the details of their assets. Interestingly, curbing corruption is a common theme within the manifestos of every major party. However, this appears to simply be an attempt to gain popularity.

Following are the some facts regarding the corruption of politicians in Pakistan.


Events caused by corruption

August 6, 1990

President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolved parliament and sacked Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto for corruption and ineptitude

April 18, 1993

President Ghulam Ishaq Khan again dissolved parliament and sacks Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for corruption

November 1999

President Farooq Ahmed Khan Laghari dissolved parliament and sacked Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government again on corruption allegations

October 1999

General Pervez Musharraf stages a coup, ousting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif citing “lack of accountability and corruption of horrendous proportions” as a key justification.

May 2000

The Supreme Court validates the coup as necessary for “accountability against those, alleged of corruption in every walk of life”

August 2003

A Swiss judge convicted former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband (later President Asif Ali Zardari) for laundering $12 million received in bribes from contract-seeking Swiss firms in 1995.

October 2007

Fifty-six days after Pakistan ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), the Federal Government promulgated the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which terminated all investigations of corruption offenses by public officials prior to October 12, 1999

March 2007

President Musharraf suspended the Chief Justice of Pakistan, citing corruption and misuse of authority

July 2018

Nawaz Sharif was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. His daughter and son-in-law were also convicted for corruption.

  1. Police

Police department was considered the most corrupt institution in Pakistan global corruption barometer of 2013. Traffic police officials taking bribes in return for ignoring minor infringements is a common observation. Indeed, the reputation of police has created a vicious circle whereby citizens, too, try to bribe officers expecting that they will be able to avoid spending time filing out police reports if they ignore the charges in exchange for a bribe. There are also claims that police have been exploited by feudal elements in rural areas and used for torturing political opponents and rigging elections.


In 2011 survey, Transparency international (TI) identified judiciary as the most corrupt institution in Pakistan, alongside police. Nevertheless, with the proceedings of some high impact corruption cases against government officials, including the PM, Supreme Court demonstrated its positive role in tackling corruption. However, it is still present in the lower judiciary, particularly high courts and the lower courts, where people were unlawfully promoted within the judiciary.

Anti-corruption efforts

Legal Framework

  1. International legislation and initiatives

In 2001, Pakistan endorsed the Asian Development Bank/Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Anti-Corruption initiative (ADB/OECD Anti-Corruption Initiative) which helps countries establish legal and institutional framework for tackling corruption. It consists of three pillars i.e. to develop public service integrity system, to strengthen anti-bribery actions and to encourage public discussion on the issue of corruption. Pakistan also ratified United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2007.

  1. National legislation

stop corruption bribe corrupt hands offering money cash

There are two dedicated anti-corruption laws in Pakistan, i.e. Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947, and National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 (NAO). The NAO is the most important piece of anti-corruption legislation in Pakistan as it creates primary anti-corruption body in the country, i.e. National Accountability Bureau (NAB). Government is currently considering the Right to Information Bill which would provide citizens with more specific and wide-ranging rights. These laws would allow public to access information. In 2015, a draft law on whistle-blowing was also approved which offers whistleblowers the right to file a complaint of any wrongdoing to their department head or to the disclosure commissioner, who would then forward the complaint about investigation. This law also states that no action would be taken against whistleblower and incorrect reporting would not be an offence. This law must be placed before the legislation before it can be enacted.

  1. Institutional Framework

Pakistan’s first anti-corruption organization, the Ehtesab cell, was established in November 1996 through Ehtesab Ordinance promulgated by the caretaker government of PM Malik Meraj Khalid and then operated under elected government of Nawaz Sharif, who passed the Ehtesab Act, 1997. In Nov. 1999, it was replaced with NAB which is charged with investigating and prosecuting corruption, as well as raising awareness. The NAB can investigate everyone in Pakistan except judiciary and military personnel, both of which have their own anti-corruption mechanisms.

The NAB chairman serves a non-extendable four-year term and can be removed through the same procedure as adopted to remove a Supreme Court judge. This provides this office some degree of independence, although allegations of political engineering have been leveled against NAB.

Lahore: FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2018 file photo, former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif leaves after appearing in a court in Lahore, Pakistan. A Pakistani court has ordered to let former prime minister Sharif to go abroad for treatment without submitting any bond. Sharif's lawyer, Ashtar Ausaf says Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 that Lahore High Court gives Sharif four weeks for treatment abroad extendable if he is not fully fit to travel back.AP/PTI(AP11_16_2019_000154A)

The influence of military is also seen as five of the eight chairmen have previously held senior military positions. The bureau has increased its activities, handling 199,997 complaints in 2014-2015, up from 3,324 in 2007-2008. It has also had some success in prosecuting high-profile public and government officials.

Anti-corruption establishments investigate corruption committed by public officials. There are currently four provincial offices in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. ACEs were created to complement NAB and work against public sector corruption at provincial level by holding preliminary inquiries into corruption cases.

The office of the Ombudsman deals with complaints made by individuals rather than systematically dealing with causes of corruption. It investigates and rectifies injustices caused to a person through the mal-administration of a provincial agency or government official within 60 days of receiving a complaint.

FIA was created under the FIA Act in 1974 and carries out some functions of an anti-corruption agency. The anti-corruption and economic crime wing of FIA has a mandate that includes economic crime and police corruption.


To bring anti-corruption revolution, it is necessary to start accountability from the top. The only way to break this corruption culture is to convict high-profile corrupt figures who are proven guilty. The government should identify a few major tax evaders, dishonest judges and high-level government officials who take bribes. Since a campaign against corruption can too often become one against the opposition, the first big fish to be fried should be from the party in power. Accountability requires a positive narrative that Pakistanis can buy in to and mobilize behind.

Corruption design concept set with budget embezzlement flat icons isolated vector illustration

Pointing fingers and shouting loudly at law-breakers is an easy way to vent frustration – and there is no doubt that these people should be penalized. But when justice is not served, the perception of helplessness is reinforced and momentum in the process of accountability building is lost. Instead, let’s make sure we celebrate the heroes, build on areas where success is clear and work to support those who are doing the right thing.

  • There is an urgent need to establish exclusive anti-corruption courts at central as well as regional level to pursue corruption-related cases, and should function according to existing laws. However, the institutional structure of the anti-corruption courts should be specially designed to ensure transparency in decision-making.
  • Politicians, bureaucrats, military officers acquire funds illegally when they are in power. That’s why public officials should declare their assets. This asset declaration must be examined by an effective prosecution agency that can freely and fairly investigate into their declarations.
  • Corruption cases will come to light against corrupt government officers only if someone provides evidence against them. The best way to ensure this is to provide immunity from prosecution to the bribe-giver in exchange for providing solid evidence against corrupt government officials.
  • There is also a need for powerful and effective national anti-corruption commission. Establishing such an agency is, perhaps, the most difficult task although Pakistan had established Ehtesab commission in the ’90s.


No democratic government has created a truly independent anti-corruption body in Pakistan. The main institutions, i.e. the Ehtesab Commission and the NAB were established in the wake of the overthrow of democratically-elected governments by military rulers. The highest courts have validated the legitimacy of these organizations while later democratically-elected governments have continued to run them. The illiberal origin of anti-corruption organizations in Pakistan exposes the latent conflict between elected and non-elected groups as they attempt to use anti-corruption agencies for their own benefit.A logo of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is seen on the main entrance of their office in Karachi

In fact, neither the military nor the government nor the judiciary has ever earnestly intended to grant full autonomy to the accountability organization. Each office has sought to bring the operation of the organization into line with its own version of accountability and institutional interests. Because it lacks independence from powerful institutions, the NAB is deeply affected by governmental change. As soon as the degree of political inclusiveness increases, the anti-corruption mechanism tends to fall back on low- and middle-rank officials and is most likely to capitalize more on voluntary returns and plea bargains, resulting in a low conviction rate. The various shifts in the activity of the NAB suggest a political use of the institution.

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