Pakistan observes the International Anti-Corruption Day on December 09 this year, engulfed in growing economic crisis and rising corruption, with its Transparency International ranking down from the 47th to 42nd most corrupt country out of 180 nations. What then is the state of corruption in Pakistan? The finance minister admits corruption related losses to the tune of almost Rs 500 billion in government departments. Rampant corruption including non-transparent procurements, commissions and massive meritless inductions has led key public sector organisations towards grave financial and administrative mismanagement, with some inching towards bankruptcy. The dismissed chairman of the Steel Mills alone is under investigation for causing Rs 22 billion loss to this vital national asset. Mega scams involving the bigwigs adorn the front pages of the local and even foreign media. So grave is the crisis of ethics that a top law officer and some leading lawyers are alleged to have taken bribes to influence the higher judiciary. The mad race to mercilessly rob the nation's wealth seems unending. Investor and donor confidence has hit rock bottom. Has the society finally risen against the forces of corruption? Leaving aside the NRO beneficiaries because the case is sub judice, there is no need to spare those hundreds of the elitist wilful loan defaulters who gobbled billions of bank loans and ultimately got them written off. While media reports estimate that over 50 billions were waived off in the last few years, the insiders claim that this figure may be many times higher. Why not expose the mega loan eaters before the nation? Is this information being deliberately suppressed because the list may include many elected representatives? If the PAC that appears to be dragging this case fails to make any significant progress, then the Supreme Court needs to intervene in the matter. With the civil society and media calling for their strict accountability, this 'untouchable' class may be heading for difficult times. Are all equal before the law? Advertisements published in the print media in November this year, announced public auction of confiscated rickshaws and 2/5 marla houses to recover the unpaid loans. Why such discrimination between the privileged rich and the unfortunate poor? Surely "democracy is the best revenge" against the wretched poor. The year 2009 will long be remembered for the historic restoration of an independent judiciary under CJ Iftikhar. Its impact is becoming increasingly evident from its strong focus on wiping out corruption within the judiciary and dealing with corruption cases with an iron hand. Despite the setbacks faced in the infamous nine billion Bank of Punjab (BOP) scam in Dogar's court, NAB did manage to hold ground. Real success was however achieved when the incumbent CJ took charge of the case early this year. Having pleaded guilty and apologised to the SC, the BOP culprits, arrested from Malaysia after NAB's successful sting operation, are ready to pay back the entire looted amount. Will the SC also take cognisance of those 'high and reputed' lawyers accused of taking hefty 'bribes', to apparently influence the Dogar Court in BOP case? With NAB under tight government control and shocking media revelations about the alleged 'NRO bypass strategy of engineered withdrawals', the accountability of the NRO awardees remains the judiciary's foremost challenge. Will 2010 dawn with the mother of all gifts to the nation from the SC so that no ruler could ever dare in future to compromise with the corrupt to serve vested interests, under the garb of reconciliation. What then are the challenges Across the board, transparent and fair but ruthless accountability of all segments of society is essential to sustain good governance and hence control corruption effectively. This will only be possible through the integrated efforts of all stakeholders including the government, judiciary, anti-corruption agencies, civil society and the media. One hears the lone voice of the PM vowing to fight corruption. The ruling party needs to display stronger political will towards declaring zero tolerance against corruption. Sacrificing a few top corrupt government stalwarts and ensuring exemplary punishments will not only enhance the government's image and commitment towards good governance, but also send the right signals to foreign investors and donor agencies. For accountability to be effective and meaningful, the mechanism must be operationally independent and financially autonomous. It can only be credible if it can nab the big fish irrespective of power and status. Even after 20 months since the PM announced to abolish NAB, neither has this been done nor NAB replaced by the much promised Independent Accountability Commission. The draft of Holders of Public office Accountability Act 2009 remains un-finalised because of controversies on the commission's independence, indemnity to the corrupt and inclusion of critical offences like wilful loan default, misuse of authority, cheating public at large, etc. Termed as 'corruption friendly', the draft Accountability Act includes punishments reduced from current 14 years RI to 7 years RI and disqualification period also cut from 10 to 5 years. If only the existing National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) - that governs NAB - had been suitably amended to make NAB interference free, the accountability process would not have been so adversely affected since democracy was restored. The war against terrorism may be won sooner or later. The consequences of loosing the war against corruption may be horrific; the damage to the country may be irreversible; the fabric of our society may tear apart beyond repair. Eliminating corruption is critical if Pakistan is to free itself from the shackles of poverty, foreign loans, aids and grants and restore its respect in the comity of nations. The mindset of public office holders, that the nation's wealth is up for grabs must change. A clean and honest leadership that upholds the nation's trust remains our best hope in defeating corruption. The writer is a retired brigadier Email: