There is no denying the fact that corruption is virtually eating into the vitals of our nation. Hardly a day passes without the media reporting some new evidence of corruption on the part of the higher-ups of our society, be they politicians, bureaucrats, officers of the armed forces, businessmen, lawyers, doctors or other members of the elite in Pakistan. It appears that the disease of corruption has now assumed the proportions of an epidemic which is affecting each and every sector of our society and economy. According to the Transparency International Report for 2009, Pakistan was ranked at 139 out of 180 countries on the scale of its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). In other words, out of 180 countries, 138 countries were less corrupt than Pakistan. Pakistans comparable ranking for 2008 was at 134 indicating deterioration in corrupt practices in the country a year later. Leaving aside developed countries which were far ahead of us in the CPI score, even the performance of many developing and Muslim countries was better than ours. Even India did better than us by being ranked at 84 in 2009. Corruption takes various forms. The most obvious form of corruption is when one has to pay illegal gratification for getting ones legitimate work done. The other related form is when money is exchanged for a favour in violation of laws and rules. Such practices are encouraged in the cloak of secrecy and lack of transparency. The problem of graft or misuse of authority for private gain is aggravated when government decisions are taken through shady deals away from the spotlight of public scrutiny. The problem gets even worse, if the whole society suffers from lack of respect for law and the constitution, and if an independent judiciary is non-existent. Corruption can also take the form of intellectual dishonesty, for instance, when a government official instead of giving his honest opinion on important national issues puts up views just to please his bosses in the interest of promotion or a lucrative posting. Finally, our governmental system now increasingly suffers from legalised corruption which involves giving legal cover to the grant of undue favours and monetary benefits by the governments to the ministers, secretaries, members of the national and provincial assemblies, and their cronies in the form of allotment of plots at nominal prices at the expense of the national exchequer and the issuance of permits and licences. The practice of allotting expensive plots of government land to the favourites of the governmen at a nominal price far below their market price has become so widespread in Pakistan that one is tempted to call our system of government as plotocracy rather than democracy. There is a famous saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is not surprising therefore that, in the long run, military dictatorship s in which power is concentrated in one hand prove to be the worst in terms of encouraging corrupt practices in running government affairs besides inflicting irreparable damage on the various institutions of the state. The experience of our country which has witnessed four military governments spanning more than half of its history has not been any different. It is imperative for the survival and progress of our nation that our army generals are disabused of the misconceived notion that they have the divine right to suspend or abrogate the constitution and overthrow democratically elected civilian governments whenever it suits them. Surely, the army must function under the control of the democratically elected government. It is for the people of Pakistan to assess the performance of the elected governments and to re-elect them or to boot them out, if they do not come up to their expectations. Needless to say that the civilian governments must also realise their own responsibilities in upholding the rule of law and the constitution and in ensuring good governance. They must avoid the mistake of concentration of power in one hand or in one institution which is the hallmark of military governments. The three pillars of state, that is, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary must function in their respective areas of jurisdiction in accordance with the system of checks and balances delineated in the constitution. The 17th Amendment, which distorted the 1973 constitution to suit the requirements of a military dictator, must be repealed to establish the supremacy of Parliament. At the same time, our elected leaders must learn to live simple lives, free of pomp and show, to empathise with the common man in Pakistan who is confronted with the problems of hunger, poverty and deprivation. Hopefully, the example set by the leaders on these lines will encourage their subordinates in the civilian bureaucracy and the armed forces to follow suit, thus, removing a major cause for corruption in Pakistan. If we wish to root out the evil of corruption from our midst, we must establish the rule of law and equality before law. Everybody, whether a politician, a bureaucrat, a military officer or a businessman, must be held equally accountable in the eyes of law. Nobody should be allowed to get away with violations of law just because of his/her powerful position in the government or in the society. Sooner or later everybody must face the legal consequences of his/her illegal acts. Transparency in the working of the governmental institutions is another indispensable condition for the elimination of corruption. Important government decisions must be made in a fair and transparent manner on the basis of law and merit rather than personal interests and connections. An independent judiciary must play its own role in checking the excesses of the executive authorities in the performance of their functions. Finally, the media and the civil society must exercise constant vigilance to identify and stop malpractices by the executive Above all, we need to strengthen our moral fibre through the reform of the educational system and inculcating the moral values of honesty, integrity and truthfulness among the members of our society be they in the government or outside. After all, corruption, though rife in the government, is not limited to government officials. A businessman when he evades the payment of taxes due from him is also guilty of corruption. An industrialist who is guilty of adulteration or other illegal practices is no less corrupt than others. A shopkeeper who uses faulty scales to weigh less than what is due to the customer is also corrupt. A teacher who does not do a good job of teaching in the hope of making extra money through tuition after school hours is again guilty of corruption. A doctor who is negligent in treating his patients is also corrupt. An engineer who constructs structurally flawed buildings and bridges thus endangering the lives of others is no less corrupt. Thus, each and every member of the society must also do some soul searching to examine his/her conduct, if we really wish to rid our society of the menace of corruption. The writer is a retired ambassador.