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Asia

South Asian anti-corruption campaigns myopic

Anti-corruption movements in India and Pakistan are becoming stronger. But experts say that these movements are anti-democratic and short-sighted when it comes to offering solutions to the problem.

Many urban Pakistanis say that corruption is the biggest impediment to progress in their country, and, they hold their politicians responsible for the situation. These educated Pakistanis from big cities like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi pin their hopes on the Supreme Court, which they think has finally gained enough independence to try corrupt legislators and politicians. The Pakistani anti-corruption movement, however, is also supported by right-wing parties and the private media, besides the lawyers who initiated the movement in 2007.

Pakistan's Supreme Court is currently hearing corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, who is also co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The court insists that the PPP government must write a letter to the Swiss authorities to re-open graft cases against President Zardari, which the Swiss government had shelved in 2008. The government says the cases are ''politically motivated" and cannot be re-opened while Zardari remains head of state and enjoys presidential immunity.

But many Pakistanis want an end to corruption and more accountability from their political leaders.

Pakistan's Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammed Chaudhry with his supporters

Pakistani Supreme Court's Chief Chaudhry enjoys popular support, experts say

"The foremost thing is to change the system. To eradicate corruption from Pakistan, we need to emphasize our morals and the accountability of politicians," Ahmed bin Mateen, a young Pakistani in Karachi, told DW.

In India, too, the anti-graft campaign - led by veteran social activist Anna Hazare - is going from strength to strength. The central point of Hazare's movement is also political corruption. Hazare has been campaigning to force the Indian parliament to approve the Jan Lokpal (Citizen's Ombudsman) bill, which proposes to establish the position of an independent ombudsman, who would have the powers to prosecute politicians and government employees.

Earlier this week, Aseem Trivedi, a 25-year-old anti-graft activist and cartoonist, was arrested by the Indian government on sedition charges for "ridiculing" India's national emblem and parliament. Trivedi was released after protests in India and abroad.

"Instead of arresting Aseem Trivedi, the government should make some self-arrests of the characters running this country," tweeted Suhel Seth, who is an actor and works in advertising.

The Indian United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been hit by a series of corruption scandals in the past two years. Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also held responsible for a coal mining scam (Coalgate), which involved the allocation of mining rights to private companies.

Parliament's supremacy

Political experts say that the focus of the Indian and Pakistani anti-corruption campaigners is mostly on the politicians' corruption, while they conveniently ignore the graft in other state institutions and the corporate sector.

Supporters of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in India and Pakistan's governing PPP say that the "self-righteous and self-appointed anti-corruption campaigners" want to undermine parliamentary democracy in their countries by insisting on establishing, or giving extra powers, to un-elected supra-parliamentary bodies to prosecute elected legislators. They say that no institution should be more powerful than parliament.

Indian policemen escort political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi (Photo: Rafiq Maqbool / AP / dapd)

Trivedi was arrested for allegedly using his cartoons to "insult national symbols"

Snehal Shingavi, a South Asia expert at the University of Texas in Austin, criticized Hazare's Jan Lokpal bill and said it would create "a parallel unaccountable government," which could be "very risky."

Shingavi, however, told DW that most Indians and Pakistanis were justified in their disillusionment with major political parties in their countries. But he added that the anti-corruption movements were short-sighted.

"The anti-corruption movement in Pakistan led by Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, and the anti-graft campaign in India headed by Anna Hazare, have made big claims about ending corruption in 90 days. We know that these are simple fixes that don't really get at the root of the problem," Shingavi said.

For her part, Pakistani researcher and social activist Nazish Brohi told DW that parliament was an elected body, unlike the judiciary, the media and the bureaucracy, and therefore politicians were more accountable to the people than any other institution.

"Politicians may be corrupt but they still have to answer to their voters. Politicians are an easy target," Brohi said, adding that it was undemocratic to propose unelected bodies above parliament.

An "undemocratic" movement

Brohi also called the anti-corruption movement in Pakistan "undemocratic."

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, left, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (Photo: AP / Prakash Singh, Pool)

Pakistani President Zardari and Indian PM Singh are hit hard by corruption scandals

"Most rural Pakistanis are not bothered about corruption. Corruption is not their foremost problem. They have other issues to worry about. In my view, the anti-corruption campaign is a very middle-class phenomenon in Pakistan," Brohi said.

Brohi said that the Pakistani and Indian middle classes believed that the state institutions were an obstacle to their "upward social mobility" and economic growth, so they wanted a system which bypassed parliament and bureaucracy.

Global capital vs. local capital

Leftist Pakistani activist Dr. Riaz Ahmed noted that local business people had been hit hard by the unhindered flow of international capital into both Pakistan and India.

"The judiciary in Pakistan is trying to protect the interests of the locals, whereas the PPP government and other political parties are getting kickbacks from their deals with international companies," said Ahmed, adding that both in India and Pakistan, the domestic business people were opposing their governments not because of corruption but for their commercial interests.

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