The prime minister in a welcome move has renewed his government's commitment to fight corruption with determination and full force. To begin with he has sacked the Chairman of Pakistan Steel Mill (PSM) and has ordered the audit of his own secretariat as the first step. However, one will be justified to ask that the federal Cabinet also works under him and the audit of federal ministers may also be ordered. Pakistan has been reeking with corruption for many years but no government has been able to make a dent in it because those who were given the task to check it were no angels. If not all, some were definitely tainted themselves. Moreover, the corrupt elements have over the years evolved such imaginative techniques of camouflage that it has become very difficult to catch them. In case they are caught, they are hardly ever punished because the judges are also citizens of this country and naturally have their own temptations. A Pakistani poet has written a beautiful line which sums up the whole story: Le ke rishwat phans gaya hai, / De ke rishwat chhoot ja A man who has plundered the nation's wealth can easily pay a bribe. A most ridiculous technique to bribe the government was evolved by the Accountability Bureau under the name of 'Plea Bargain'. This was an ingenious system to pardon the crime of the culprit if he was willing to give half of his looted money to the government treasury. He will be pardoned and let go without any punishment. The most famous example of Plea Bargain is that of former Navy Chief Mansoorul Haq. He was caught in a case of mega-corruption and offered half of his enormous dollar account in Plea Bargain provided his case was not sent to a court of law. So he was pardoned and allowed to proceed to a foreign country to enjoy the fruits of his corruption. His plea was accepted. What a shame Corruption started in Pakistan under the PPP regime in 1988. This government was dismissed on charges of corruption and mal-administration in1990. The Party returned to power in 1993 for a second term. But once again it was dismissed by Benazir's handpicked president on charges of corruption, gross abuse of power and extrajudicial killings in Karachi. In 1997, Mian Nawaz Sharif entered the Prime Minister House for a second term. His style of governance was based on personal friendships, family ties and playing to the gallery. He conducted five nuclear tests on May 28, 1998 ignoring repeated pleas of US president Clinton. Consequently, America along with Japan and several other Western countries clamped sanctions against Pakistan which was a heavy blow to the country's already fragile economy. The Sharif government declared emergency and froze foreign currency accounts in the banks ostensibly to safeguard the country's precious foreign exchange. He declared an emergency in view of what he called the threat of external aggression and for good measure also suspended basic human rights. But on the night of May 28-29, those "near and dear ones" who had prior access to the government's decision, withdrew, according to the government's own admission, US$ 200 million from bank vaults, while the opposition claimed that the total amounted withdrawn was US$ 500 million. What happened to this amount is not yet known. The corruption saga continued during the General (retd) Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz era. One notable example was the privatisation of the Pakistan Steel Mill at a very low rate excluding the high priced land in the Mill's premises. This privatisation move of a vital industry of the country was aborted by the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Mr Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, which was one major cause of his dismissal by Musharraf. If the prime minister is really determined to uproot corruption, he may ask the Parliament to reject NRO and punish the cream of corrupt elements pardoned by the ordinance. All of them have returned to Pakistan and some are holding very important positions in Mr Gilani's government. Another major source of corruption are the mafias that are operating under the government's protection and support. To name a few, there is the mill owners' mafia which manipulates the prices of essential products such as wheat, rice and sugar. Then there are land and building mafias which are fleecing the common man and greasing the palms of bureaucracy at every level of the government. There is another mafia of 'big/powerful' landlords and big businessmen who earn billions in profits, while evading billions in government taxes. Mr Prime Minister, there is a feeling that the country is running only on corruption. It may stop working if various authorities do not earn illegal money beyond their salaries. Remember corruption can only be contained if corrupt politicians, landlords, big businessmen and mafia heads are handled first rather than petty officials in the secretariat. E-mail: