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Deconstructing the evil 'system': Who are the corrupt?

Updated November 04, 2014


Owing to the very design of this entire system, the elites get to dictate the rules of the game.
Owing to the very design of this entire system, the elites get to dictate the rules of the game.

In my last article, I focused on busting the myth of the ‘feudal’ being the root of all evil, by presenting some ground realities of how the country's real ‘elites’ exploit the system to protect their interests.

This article presents a more expansive explanation of how these elites work the system and what the system really look like.

The prevalent belief is that there are two kinds of governments that have ruled Pakistan: military and civilian politicians. This is merely an illusion of what has really been going on.

Thing is, the military and the politicians are the faces of the operation. While it is true that there have always been two faces of government in Pakistan since its independence, there has always been just one single operation. And to understand the operation, it is crucial to understand how the government functions.

The government is made up of three permanent and one rotating part. The rotating part is the face of the government i.e. politicians, while the three permanent portions are the bureaucracy, the military and the judiciary.

Explore: The politics of anti-politics


The bureaucracy is the single most important arm of the government, and the most influential one. As they work in the backdrop, they avoid the blame for the blunders while taking credit for the successes. As they are the implementers of government programmes, they have a lot more sway then people think they do. They are the ones who design and plan public relief programmes which eventually get recommended to politicians, who then approve or disapprove them.

Theoretically speaking, bureaucrats are supposed to be experts on issues, but that is no longer the reality. The growing hold of DMG (District Management Group) over the working of all tiers of bureaucracy has created a situation where non-expert bureaucrats have more sway than they should. But since they are working in the background, no one raises an issue. Additionally, as they cannot be fired from their jobs, they keep surviving unchallenged, more than any other arm of the government.

The worst that can happen to bureaucrats is to be suspended or made in to OSDs. But quite crucially, the bureaucracy has an institutional memory i.e. they know how things work in Pakistan, so they simply cannot be alienated. This is why all attempts at civil service reform get shot down as soon as they are started.


Judiciary has gained its current level of importance only recently, as a direct result of the lawyer’s movement. Judiciary is also bureaucratic in its operations, but compared to the bureaucracy, it is more exposed to the public courtesy its function as a justice delivery organisation.


Military, on the other hand, has a lot more public exposure than the other two permanent arms of the government courtesy it being a face of governance in Pakistan. Military has had to run its core operations of securing the borders while looking for national security interests along with ensuring that the larger interests in the system are maintained.

Politicans make up only 25 per cent of the 'system'

Politicians are the most publicly exposed of all arms of the government. Dependent on public votes for their positions, they are the least permanent ones too, and have no option but to accept responsibility for the failures of the other three permanent arms of the government.

From this perspective, the public only choose 25 per cent of the government and that 25 per cent is responsible for the other 75 per cent that is free to act without taking direct blame for most things.

Also read: When democracy fails

Owing to the very design of this entire system, the elites get to dictate the rules of the game i.e. they determine the extent to which they will tolerate deviation of any part of the system from their specific interests. So when the system comes to halt and/or is suffering from internal conflict, what's actually happening is that different groups of elite are having a conflict over the protection of their respective interests.

The moment they sort out their conflicts is the moment all the clashing of institutions comes to a halt.

Unfortunately, the way Pakistan’s politics has grown in design, the elites fight their wars through pitting civil and military leaderships under the guise of technical conflicts, while all the time, the real issues go undiscussed.

The govt must satisfy the elites to survive

The common man assumes the purpose of the government to be a service delivery organisation.

Thing is, without social justice and equality, the government’s service delivery process is seriously skewed in favour of appeasing its core constituency for survival i.e. the elites.

One must realise that the way our 'system' is built, the core constituency of anyone in power is never the general public. And the general public’s anger is just aimed at 25 per cent of the government that screws them over while the permanent lynchpins of the system stay in place regardless of who the face is.

It is also crucial to realise that in this scenario, there are varying degrees of incentives to be dishonest for each stakeholder.

Take a look: Beyond the march: The powers that (won't) be

For politicians, their skewed focus on pleasing the elites in order to complete their democratic tenure leaves them with low public support for the next election cycle. This leaves them with incentive to be dishonest and corrupt as the punishment for doing so is high i.e. they will be voted out.

The judiciary, being the weakest, is still in the process of figuring out its potential extent of incentives.

The bureaucracy, on the other hand, is the one with the most incentive to be dishonest and corrupt, as their punishment is next to nothing.

It's the bureaucracy, stupid

So while the system lets the ones with the most incentive to be corrupt (bureaucracy) go unpunished, it is merciless to the part of the government (politicians) with the lowest incentive to be dishonest.

Additionally, it is custom-built to support the interests of a few.

Unfortunately, our masses have been led to believe that only a certain component (25 per cent) of the government is responsible for the doom and gloom. To add insult to injury, the democratic governments have to ask the bureaucrats to be the judge of the performance and effectiveness of politicians.

Do you see the level of cluster**** here?

Go through: Past Present: The politics of intellect

The purpose of this article is not to paint an even gloomier picture of reality than we are used to seeing, it is rather to help explain how the government really operates, and how the masses keep getting played without knowing who to actually blame.

Like I said in my last article, social justice and equality is where reform needs to start, so that at the very least, there are equal levels of punishment for all forms of government.