Pakistan and corruption: From Zia-ul-Haq to Nawaz Sharif, a series of unfortunate events

On Thursday, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received a temporary reprieve from the Supreme Court which said there was "insufficient evidence" to remove him from office but ordered setting up of a joint team to investigate the allegations of graft against his family.

However, if history is any indication, Sharif doesn't have much cause for concern. Despite Pakistan being plagued by corruption since its inception, and almost every past Pakistani prime minister and president being accused of corruption, Yousaf Raza Gillani remains the only Pakistan head of state to be convicted while in office. That too on charges of contempt of court for refusing to correspond with the Swiss authorities to reopen a money-laundering case against Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters

According to a report in News Line Magazine, the first attempt to check corruption came in 1949 under prime minister  Liaquat Ali Khan. The Public Representative Offices Disqualification Act (PRODA) was invoked against two chief ministers. However, the law failed to check the tide of corruption and was denounced as "anti-democratic."

Many blame the military dictatorship of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq for institutionalising the culture of graft.

Indeed, during his time in power from 1978 to 1988, Haq repealed anti-corruption laws enacted by prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, introduced development funds for Members of the National Assembly and Members of Provincial Assembly and also wrote off bank loans taken by Haq's supporters, according to News Line Magazine.

However, according to a report in The Daily Journalist, corruption was arguably, at its worst between 1990 and 1999. In that decade, four democratically-elected governments under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were alternately dismissed as a result of charges of corruption and misuse of power.

 Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari

According to a report in The New York Times, between 1994 and 1998, a Swiss company that was hired to curb customs fraud in Pakistan also allegedly paid millions of dollars to offshore companies controlled by Bhutto's husband and her mother Nusrat. A gold dealer in the Middle East also reportedly deposited $10 million into an account controlled by Zardari after the Bhutto government gave him a monopoly on Pakistani gold imports, The New York Times reported. In fact, such was the cloud of corruption that hung over the Bhutto administration, that Zardari was nicknamed by the press as  'Mr 10 percent'.

In 1998, Pakistani investigators claimed they traced more than $100 million to foreign bank accounts and properties controlled by Benazir Bhutto and her family, according to a report in The New York Times. In 1995, French military contractor Dassault Aviation reportedly agreed to pay Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari and a Pakistani partner $200 million for a $4 billion jet fighter deal. The deal fell through when her government was dismissed.

Dawn reported that when Sharif was re-elected as Pakistani Prime Minister in 1998, he initiated the case, dubbed Swissgate, which accused Benazir and Zardari of embezzling $60 million in kickbacks in Swiss bank accounts. in 1999, Benazir and Zardari were found guilty of the scam in 2003, but the order was suspended on appeal. In 2007, Bhutto allegedly negotiated a deal with Pervez Musharraf who issued an amnesty law under which the cases were closed. Zardari was never convicted but remained in prison from 1997 to 2004 on charges pertaining to money laundering, corruption and murder.

Nawaz Sharif

Panamagate isn't Nawaz Sharif's first brush with the law. While allegations of corruption have chased him since the 1980s, Sharif was convicted for tax evasion and corruption in 2000, while he had been serving a life sentence for hijacking and terrorism. At the time, Sharif was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment, fined 20 million rupees and barred from holding public office for 21 years. Sharif then went into exile and returned in 2007.


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Updated Date: Apr 21, 2017 20:09:56 IST

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