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Pakistan: Is PM Khan's government more corrupt than previous administrations?


Transparency International has ranked Pakistan 140th out of 180 countries in its latest Corruption Perceptions Index report. This deals a blow to Imran Khan, whose party promised to eradicate corruption from the country.

The perception of corruption in Pakistan has worsened since Imran Khan came to power in 2018, according to Transparency International (TI).

In its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2021, the Berlin-based watchdog ranked the South Asian country 140th out of 180 countries, with 180th being the most corrupt country in the world.

Pakistan was ranked 124th in 2020, 120th in 2019, and 117th in 2018.

TI has been compiling the corruption index since 1995. It is based on 13 different sources that depict perceptions of corruption within the public sector, including experts and business people.

The sources also include the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, and private risk and consulting firms.

According to the CPI 2021, the "deteriorating rule of law" and "state capture" are the main reasons behind a significant rise of corruption in Pakistan.

Before coming to power in 2018, Khan, a populist politician, regularly cited TI's CPI as an "evidence" to malign his political opponents, mainly former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Khan's politics continue to revolve around punishing "corrupt politicians," who, according to him, are impeding Pakistan's progress.

Tables have turned

But the corruption perception has become starker since Khan took the reins. Thus, the latest TI report presents a chance for opposition leaders to mock Khan.

Shehbaz Sharif, opposition leader in the National Assembly (Pakistan's lower house of parliament), said in a tweet that Khan's government "has broken all records of corruption in the last 20 years," adding that when his brother Nawaz was in power, corruption had decreased in the country.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a former prime minister associated with the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, told DW that corruption is all-time high under Khan's government.

He dubbed it "unprecedented" in Pakistan's history.

Zulfiqar Ali Bader, a spokesperson for the Pakistan People's Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said the prime minister must step down after the publication of the CPI report.

But Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry played down the seriousness of the issue and told DW that Pakistan's low CPI score was not due to financial corruption in the country. Still he admitted, "Yes, we need reforms in the areas of the rule of law and state capture as mentioned in the report."

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Why is corruption increasing in Pakistan?

Analysts cite a myriad of reasons behind rising corruption in Pakistan.

"Transparency International makes a strong case that one can't divorce anti-corruption issues from the broader issue of democracy. When democracy takes a hit, anti-corruption efforts struggle because it's in strong and robust democracies where you can most expect to see transparency and probity," Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW.

"Pakistan's democratic backsliding, in effect for quite some time, has constrained anti-corruption," he added.

Elaborating on the issue of democratic backsliding, Amber Shamsi, a political analyst and journalist, said the CPI reflects the perceptions related to human rights violations, attacks on journalists and deteriorating rule of law in the country.

"There is no across-the-board accountability in Pakistan. Dozens of opposition figures were accused of corruption and put behind bars, but they have not been prosecuted," she told DW.

But Benazir Shah, a political analyst, says the CPI reports are not always accurate.

"The report is limited [in its scope] because it only takes into account the perception of corruption within the public sector, leaving out the private sector. Also, corruption [rates] within a country vary from city to city and sector to sector, which means that one ranking or score for a country can be misleading," she said.

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Learning the hard way

Regardless, the Transparency International report has done a lot of damage to PM Khan's reputation as an "anti-graft crusader." Experts say it could even hurt him in the 2023 general elections.

"Khan's political identity is interwoven with the anti-corruption issue. The new TI report, in that regard, is problematic," according to Kugelman.

"The premier and his allies will seek to shrug off the TI rankings as an anomaly, or as a foreign conspiracy to malign Pakistan. In an ideal world, though, he and his party allies would introspect on the implications of these rankings. They say a lot not just about Pakistan's corruption challenge, but also about the democratic backsliding that exacerbates the corruption challenge," he added.

Khan's failure to revive the country's economy is already causing him political problems. Along with tax increases and higher energy prices, Pakistanis are also facing rising inflation, as the purchasing power of the rupee decreases. Pakistan's inflation rate hit 11.5% last November. The rupee also is also trading at record lows against the dollar.

"Khan's government has failed to deliver. There is no rule of the law [in the country], and he is suppressing opposition parties and curbing civil freedoms," said former PM Abbasi.

But Kugelman says there are no quick fixes to Pakistan's economic problems.

"Khan may have a genuine commitment to combat corruption, but the sheer scale of the problem — not to mention the power of vested interests that don't want a change in the status quo — underscores that this continues to be an uphill battle. Anti-corruption is one of those goals that is so much easier to envision when in the opposition than inside the system. Khan has learned that the hard way," he said.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
Affluent upbringing

Imran Khan was born in Lahore in 1952, the son of a civil engineer. Khan grew up with his four sisters in a relatively affluent part of the city. He received a privileged education, first in his hometown and then in Worcester, England. It was there that Khan's love and talent for the game of cricket became evident. In 1972, he enrolled at Oxford University to study politics and economics.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
Pakistan cricket's blue-eyed boy

Khan played cricket throughout his time in England and after returning to his native Pakistan in 1976, he quickly became a regular in the national team. By 1982, he was awarded the captain's armband. Khan enjoyed an illustrious career and was regarded by many as one of the best all-rounders in the world.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
World champion

The ultimate high point of Khan's sporting career saw him captain Pakistan to the 1992 Cricket World Cup in Melbourne, Australia. As if his popularity couldn't get any bigger back home, Khan even took the winning wicket in the final against England.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
From playboy to (thrice) married man

Khan enjoyed hedonistic bachelor life and was a regular fixture on London's nightlife scene. However, in 1995, at age 42, he finally tied the knot to 21-year-old Jemima Goldsmith. During their nine-year marriage, the famous couple provided plenty of fodder for the British and Pakistani tabloids. Despite separating in 2004, Goldsmith has remained a vocal supporter of Khan's politics.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
Khan enters politics

Khan wasted little time after retiring from cricket in 1994. Just two years later he entered Pakistani politics and founded the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. However, his popularity was slow to carry over from cricket into politics. In the 1997 general elections, his PTI party failed to win a single seat.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
Political activist

Khan remained active in politics over the next decades. In 1999, he supported General Pervez Musharraf's military coup, only to later turn against Musharraf ahead of the 2007 presidential election. Khan was subsequently placed under house arrest and even spent a few days in prison. However, his supporter base continued to grow, and by 2013 he became a key candidate in the general elections.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
2013: Khan's political breakthrough

The PTI made substantial gains in the 2013 election, claiming 30 parliamentary seats and finishing second behind the Pakistan Muslim League. The party became the main opposition in the key provinces of Punjab and Sindh. However, its greatest feat was winning its first province in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
"Taliban Khan"

Khan has often been the butt of jokes for his pacifist stance towards terrorism in the region. He earned the moniker "Taliban Khan" for claiming that the only way to achieve peace with the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan was through negotiation. Khan was also a vocal critic of US drones strikes on Pakistan and has promised to disengage Pakistan from America's conflicts in the Middle East.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
Two more marriages

Since his divorce from Goldsmith in 2004, Khan has remarried twice. In January 2015, Khan announced his marriage to British-Pakistani journalist Reham Khanm although just 10 months later the couple said they were filing for divorce. In February 2018, Khan married his third wife, Bushra Manika (pictured front row, second from the left), whom he describes as his spiritual adviser.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
Making waves in 2018

By 2018, Khan's PTI were among the favorites going into the general election. Campaigning on a populist platform, Khan pledged to break away from Pakistan's corrupt legacy. His plans include a poverty reduction program similar to that seen in China. This would see the establishment of an "Islamic welfare state," the creation of 10 million jobs and construction of 5 million homes for the poor.

Who is Imran Khan, Pakistan's prime minister?
Prime Minister Imran Khan

Khan completed his journey from all-star cricketer to political leader on July 26, 2018. With most votes counted, the PTI is expected win up to 119 seats in Pakistan's 272-seat parliament. "I started this struggle 22 years ago and today I have been given a chance to fulfill what I dreamed for the country," Khan said in a televised speech. "We will run Pakistan like it's never been run before."

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Edited by: Shamil Shams