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Pakistan has a huge corruption problem, from its prime minister on down

072817 Rogan PAKISTAN pic
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif used state funds as his private piggy bank. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

On Friday, Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered Nawaz Sharif to step down as prime minister.

The cause of Sharif's downfall? Corruption.

Specifically, the court recognized "Panama Papers" evidence that Sharif used state funds as his private piggy bank. As with corrupt Russians, Sharif's money trail led to London, to the expensive houses his children bought in an exclusive area of town.

Still, while this is a significant victory for civil society, Pakistan's corruption problem will remain deeply embedded.

The first problem is that Pakistan lacks a credible and independent judiciary. The immediate challenge here is not so much that the judiciary is under the thumb of the military; all institutions of state are, it's that judges have a penchant for accepting bribes. Actions such as the one against Sharif are rare, and powerful business and political figures are rarely challenged for their crimes.

A further problem is that central and local Pakistani government authorities refuse to challenge vested interests. This fosters a deeply malevolent medievalism in many rural communities.

Yet Pakistan also has a culture problem in that politicians and public servants expect bribes as a norm. The culture of corruption is so ingrained that much of this activity takes place in the open. Paying bribes to police officers, hospital administrators, and utilities officials is standard fare to get anything done. Politicians also buy votes with government handouts.

To be clear, corruption is in the blood of Pakistani civil society. Evidencing as much, Nawaz Sharif's daughter, Maryam, has spent Friday ranting on Twitter about how her father will return to power for a fourth term. She has no sense of shame. Why would she? She knows the powerful always ultimately escape the grips of the law.

As I've explained, this is one reason why the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is so important. By illuminating the hidden interests of foreign leaders, the NSA assists more effective policymaking in Washington.