The release of 259 new names from Pakistan in the second installment of Panama-leaks has got our media celebrities excited yet again. It seems as if the discussion on corruption in the national media has been hijacked by the ICIJ; a corporate-sponsored international consortium of self-proclaimed investigative journalists with serious question marks against their credentials and partners. Is there a better way to discuss corruption in Pakistan?I’m not suggesting that the calls for the tainted Prime Minister to step down are not valid. The demand for an independent investigation of off-shore companies owned by his children to start with, is also valid. Others exposed in the first and second episodes of Panama-leaks should be investigated as well. I’m not suggesting that the ICIJ has cooked up the information. But surely, there’s a lot more to corruption in Pakistan than what has been selectively revealed by the Panama-leaks.

It doesn’t help the ICIJ’s credibility that instead of releasing the entire cache of files, it has chosen to select the information it feeds to the world media. Surely, what the ICIJ is dishing out is only a crafted part of the truth, a de-contextualised fragment actually designed to obscure the whole truth. What they have are files from only one law firm among many that specialize in facilitating shady transactions through off-shore companies, but the world is being denied complete access to even that information. The simple first question should naturally be: Why?

There are other important questions as well. Why, for instance, are these tax havens, off-shore companies and secret bank accounts allowed to exist in the first place? Is it fair that only the rich can afford to use these facilities for evading taxes and laundering ill-gotten money? Aren’t questions about the hidden money being legal or illegal a big joke? Even if it did not come from corruption, kickbacks and commissions, smuggling weapons and drugs, since when has it become legal to evade taxes?

As if distractions introduced by the champions of liberal democracy in the public discourse on corruption were not enough, our national media is falling prey to the wizardry of these sophisticated leaks managed by the ICIJ for its donors. They are the ones who decide about individuals they wish to expose and those they wish to hide. Those chosen to be exposed are the ones our media celebrities talk about and dissect for days. Is this all there is to corruption in our country

?What about hundreds of cases being shoddily investigated by NAB? What about thoroughly researched investigative reports in the local media exposing corruption in ongoing projects? Does it make sense for the icons of our brave new media to let a donor-driven organisation decide who is to be brought under the spotlight and who is to be spared the trouble? Doesn’t it make sense to focus on cases involving those presently holding public offices?

Sometimes it seems as if the the point of all this discussion on corruption in the media is not to curb or end it but to make it more acceptable. The champions of liberal democracy would like us to believe that it is not even a real issue. They’d go so far as to say that corruption is a part of the democracy package and anyone trying to make an issue out of it is conspiring against the democratic order. They’d rather not see corruption as the biggest conspiracy against democracy that it is.

Instead of focusing on the linkage between corruption and poor governance, our liberal champions come up with lame justifications for it, arguing for tolerating it if not accepting it as a part and parcel of democracy. Instead of highlighting how corruption eats up funds for development and results in anti-people policy decisions, they would like us to consider how widespread it is in the world and in our society. They’d rather not see how corruption money is used to subvert democracy by buying politicians and patronising armed gangs.

Corruption doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s not as if the money is plucked from a money-bearing tree without consequences. It affects the entire society and the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. When policy decisions are taken due to corrupt considerations of kickbacks and commissions rather than public interest, they jeopardise the future of entire communities and segments of society. When elections are won with the might of money and party tickets are sold to the highest bidders, it is corruption that rules the roost of democracy.It is corruption that explains our lop-sided priorities. It is corruption that makes a project worth Rs 20 billion cost thrice as much. It is corruption that is exacerbating the energy crisis, pushing small farmers to poverty and killing children in Thar. It is the serious and widespread negative consequences of corruption that provide the justification for hanging those convicted of corruption in China and Iran. It’s downright silly to suggest that we should take it in our stride.

So, let’s not obfuscate the issue by pointing fingers in every direction. Let’s not lose our focus sifting through the sands of decades past. The war against corruption must start with making the present holders of public office accountable. They are the ones who could make things better or worse through the decisions they take. They are the ones who should be brought under the spotlight. They should be the priority of NAB as well as our media icons.

Let’s not color it as a civil-military tug-of-war. The military needs to clean its house as well but it seems to be moving in the right direction at least. The champions of liberal democracy are not satisfied and are demanding harsher punishments for officers convicted of corruption. They think that it is not enough to dismiss them from service. But when it comes to corruption infesting our political governments, they don’t seem to care. Talk about corruption of our political elite, and they are quick to label it as a conspiracy against democracy.