WHILE writing off loans is a legitimate activity the banks have recourse to the world over, in the course of dealing with debtors who somehow become insolvent, in Pakistan it has been massively exploited by the influential sections of society belonging to, or associated with, the ruling classes. The total amount thus given away between 1982 and 2008 came to a whopping Rs 274 billion. Barring the earlier decades of the country's existence, when such privileged people regarded even the charge of corruption as a matter of shame, the later period saw them first getting loans and then actively working to have them written off on devious grounds. Hundreds of billions of rupees have thus been swindled; the list of beneficiaries would read like a political, bureaucratic (civilian as well as military) and business who's who; the losers, obviously, are the shareholders and ordinary depositors. The pity is that as the common man stood deprived of the use (development projects directed at his welfare) of the money, the already rich kept lining their pockets unabashedly. For the past few days, the newspapers columns and TV talk shows have been talking aloud about the looted wealth. Some prominent personalities out of the more than 8,000, who drew benefit from 1982 to October 1999 and yet more during the Musharraf period, have even been named. However, the reaction, as one could expect from Pakistan's current morally degraded setting, has been either plain denial of having done anything wrong and 'outrage' at the inclusion of the name or a vain attempt to justify the write-off on the basis of pure business exigency. Those opposition leaders who have come forward to criticise the practice of manoeuvring a loan write-off have confined themselves to mentioning the need for accountability, but in general terms, and demanded the return of the looted wealth that has presumably been taken abroad for profitable investments. The nation, with one voice, is demanding genuine accountability, not of the type contained in the proposed legislation drafted by the government. This is an occasion for all right thinking politicians, especially those sitting in the opposition, to take concrete steps. PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif has simply constituted a committee to go into the matter and Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif has promised the filing of a writ petition in a court of law. The PML-N has not turned down outright the PPP's offer to join the federal government as a quid pro quo for scrapping the 17th Amendment, which one expected it to do, but has made a vague statement that if at any stage it considered its participation could serve the national cause it would do so. It must be clear that any move that could result in the hushing up of the scandal would not find favour with the public.