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Herald Exclusive: The whole Roedad

February 25, 2015

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Roedad Khan — Photo: Aurangzaib Khan
Roedad Khan — Photo: Aurangzaib Khan

In a guest room at the political agent’s fort in Zhob lurked the ghost of a British official murdered there by his native orderly. Roedad Khan – the political agent in 1956 – was not sure how to tell a visiting dignitary on a hunting trip about the guest room being haunted. When he eventually did, his guest – the most powerful man in the land – just laughed it off.

Two years later, Roedad Khan was standing in front of his powerful guest — Ayub Khan, the commander in chief of the military, who had just taken over power in a bloodless coup. ‘Go off to Ghulam Muhammad Barrage (in Kotri, Sindh) and distribute lands among whosoever wants to be a cultivator,’ Roedad Khan was told and off he went.

At the time, Roedad Khan was working as Deputy Commissioner of Peshawar — a grade below the post of project director that Ayub Khan handed to him, along with powers to allot as many as 2.5 million acres of land. “I was the head of all the departments working on bringing all that land under cultivation,” says Roedad Khan. On a daily basis, he would issue orders for the digging up of water channels, building of roads, construction of health and sanitation facilities, setting up of farmers’ cooperatives, so on and so forth. “Every morning, I would roll up my sleeves and get into my jeep.”

The objective of his jaunts was to “colonise the land”, a bureaucratic term for bringing land under canal-irrigated cultivation and parcelling it out to eligible farmers. Roedad Khan had the power to allot 500 acres of land to whosoever he deemed a serious cultivator. A lot of retiring bureaucrats and former senior military officials managed to have big tracts of land allotted to them, as did a big number of abadgars (settler farmers), mostly from Punjab.

Another bureaucrat was allotting lands to similarly ‘eligible’ candidates in western Punjab, where vast tracts of the Thal desert were made arable through a canal brought from the Indus River. “What I did in Ghulam Muhammad Barrage, Zafarul Ahsan did in Thal,” Roedad Khan tells the Herald.

The political and environmental fallout of the barrage-driven land development is a highly contested terrain in Pakistan. The shifting demographic patterns that such allotments resulted in are subject to the scrutiny of journalists, economists as well as historians. So is the degradation of coastal lands, fisheries and mangrove forests downstream Ghulam Muhammad Barrage. Beady-eyed bureaucrats and their military masters back in the 1960s, however, saw it as nothing less than a great feat of development.

Roedad Khan received a civilian award for his colonisation project. “Ayub Khan would boast before the cabinet: ‘Go to Ghulam Muhammad Barrage and see for yourself the work done there,’” is how Roedad Khan looks back at what he sees as one of his greatest accomplishments. “It became a showpiece project for the World Bank.”

Along with the undiluted sense of achievement came a sense of entitlement. “I was Ayub Khan’s blue-eyed boy. I could do nothing wrong,” says Roedad Khan.

Next, he was sent to Karachi as commissioner. From 1963 to 1965, when Roedad Khan was Karachi’s commissioner, the city was in an administrative limbo. The federal capital was shifting to Islamabad and there was no provincial administration here since Sindh was a part of the West Pakistan one-unit being ruled from Lahore. Effectively, he was the highest functionary of the state in what he calls “the most important division in the country”.

Roedad Khan with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Abdul Hafiz Pirzada and Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi — Photo courtesy: Aurangzaib Khan
Roedad Khan with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Abdul Hafiz Pirzada and Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi — Photo courtesy: Aurangzaib Khan

The archives of Dawn newspaper from 1963 show him inaugurating drinking water projects and commissioning master plans for the city. In one news report, he makes the unlikely claim to have turned Karachi into a garden city. And there was plenty of land to be allotted. “I could give land in Malir on lease for 99 years.”

Almost everyone agrees that bureaucracy in Pakistan had its heyday during Ayub Khan’s regime. “The finest hour of civil service was under Ayub Khan. He rewarded you if you did a good job,” says Roedad Khan. “He got hold of senior bureaucrats like Altaf Gauhar, S M Yusuf and Fida Hasan, who served him well.”

In Gauhar came together the good, the bad and the ugly sides of bureaucracy working under a military dictator. An ambitious polymath, he was so powerful that he was known as the de facto president. He also ghost-wrote Ayub Khan’s biography, Friends not Masters. When he died in November 2000, this is how an obituary writer in The Guardian remembered him:

“At the age of 39, after a series of senior government commercial posts, Gauhar was appointed information secretary for the right wing president, Ayub Khan, and given unprecedented powers to manage the press, a role comparable in many ways to that of Alastair Campbell to Tony Blair (and attracting much of the same sort of obloquy from the general public). During his tenure, draconian laws governing the press were passed, something for which Gauhar later publicly apologised.”

The excesses of those years accompanied another change in the make-up of bureaucracy. “As long as Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan were alive, we saw Urdu-speaking people at the top in bureaucracy and politics,” says Roedad Khan. “After the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, we saw the rise of bureaucracy and politicians from Punjab” and North West Frontier Province, now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Gauhar was a Punjabi, so was Qudratullah Shahab, another powerful bureaucrat under Ayub Khan. Two other important bureaucrats from that era – Roedad Khan and Ghulam Ishaq Khan – were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Many of these bureaucrats did not have, what Roedad Khan calls, “elite genes”. They “didn’t go to Oxford”, as was the case with many of their predecessors in the service. Such induction of officers belonging to middle-class families and educated in the local education system, however, did not make much difference to the bureaucracy’s self-image. “It was highly prestigious. We were on a different planet, in a structure where even the provincial civil servants were demigods,” says Roedad Khan. Compared with those heights of glory and power, “the service today is a ghost of what we had joined.”

Yet, they were junior partners in power. And the senior partner – the military high command – successfully used them for political purposes. Roedad Khan, for one, concedes that Ayub Khan used civil servants to influence and manipulate the presidential elections of 1965, which he won defeating Fatima Jinnah.

Roedad Khan with General Ziaul Haq — Photo: Dawn Archives
Roedad Khan with General Ziaul Haq — Photo: Dawn Archives

Roedad Khan was thrilled when, in 1949, he received a letter of appointment in the Pakistan Administrative Service. He was entering arguably the most powerful institution of the state. Those sitting atop the service at the time were, in the words of former senior police officer Gauhar Zaman, “kings and kingmakers”. Qurban Ali Khan, who headed the police, was so powerful that every policeman across Pakistan was answerable to him alone. “A common refrain at the time was ‘politician ki naukri kachi hai, police ki naukri pakki hai’ (A politician’s job is temporary, a policeman’s employment is permanent),” recalls Roedad Khan.

Recall the generation of bureaucrats that Roedad Khan harks back to and one comes up with an impression of power players rather than civil servants, to wit: Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, Ghulam Muhammad, Iskander Mirza — the first generation of deservedly so-called super-bureaucrats. Jinnah hand-picked Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, a finance officer of exceptional merit and integrity, to be the first secretary general of Pakistan. When Sardar Patel, the Bismarck of India, saw Chaudhry Muhammad Ali’s performance in meetings between India and Pakistan after Partition, he was full of praise for him. “Give me a few more men like Chaudhry Mohammad Ali and I will rule India.” In an important aside, Sardar Patel was the same man who predicted that Pakistan will, anyway, collapse in 60 days.

Roedad Khan’s own appraisal of these super-bureaucrats is nothing but adulatory. “The English had their titans: Nicolson in Bannu, Edwardes in Peshawar, Lawrence in Lahore. We had icons such as Chaudhry Mohammad Ali.”

These officers were steeped in the British administrative tradition and they ensured that the administrative services in Pakistan followed that tradition strictly — complete with strict recruitment standards and high quality training institutions. According to Zaman, what made these bureaucrats stand out was the “culture and work ethics” they had. “They were men for all seasons — well-read, and even intellectuals.”

The bureaucrats participated in cabinet meetings at par with elected politicians. Then they gradually ousted the politicians from these meetings. Chaudhry Muhammad Ali became Pakistan’s fourth prime minister. Ghulam Muhammad was the second last governor general, and possibly the most powerful; he dissolved the first constituent assembly and sacked many political governments. Mirza became Pakistan’s last governor general and first president.

The latter was a transitional figure in many ways. Mirza was a captain in the British Indian army before he joined the civil service. After Partition, he was made Pakistan’s defense secretary. It was under him that power slipped from the hands of the civilian bureaucracy and the rise of the military in politics began. It was also under him that Pakistan became a republic.

Mirza’s predecessor, however, committed the original sin of giving the military leadership a chair on the political table. “Ghulam Muhammad … formalised the entry of the army into politics by appointing General Ayub Khan, the army’s commander-in-chief, as defense minister,” says the International Crisis Group, an independent think-tank, in a report titled Reforming Pakistan’s Civil Service.

Roedad Khan’s first posting was as the assistant commissioner of Tank tehsil. A few years earlier, the same post was held by Mirza.

On a night in November 2014, Roedad Khan was unwell but forthcoming, in a room full of memories in the form of books and pictures gathered over a lifetime — among them a black-and-white photograph from 1941. It shows a young Roedad Khan as a stiff General Franco – the dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 till his death in 1975 – among a cast of student-actors for a George Bernard Shaw play, Geneva. He towers above those standing beside him. His thick black eyebrows and hair give away the young man impersonating the uniformed general — arms folded, chest decorated with medallions.

The photograph was taken when Geneva was staged at the Forman Christian (FC) College in Lahore by “the friends of the Soviet Union,” a group of students drunk on Marxism, to raise funds for Russia during World War II. Jamsheed Marker, who later became a senior Pakistani diplomat, directed the play. The lead actor and the director struck up a friendship that still goes strong. Roedad Khan’s education in Lahore and the company he kept would shape the person Roedad Khan is, exposing him to an intellectually vibrant culture. Born and schooled in Mardan – which was largely seen as a remote outpost of the British Raj then – he might not have stumbled across such an environment if he had not been in Lahore and in FC College at that time. “In Lahore, I turned red,” he says. At the age of 91, his eyes, overshadowed by thick grey eyebrows, appear washed out by the years; it is hard to make out their colour.

A year after he played General Franco, Roedad Khan joined Aligarh Muslim University to study history. Aligarh must have given him the sense of history so evident in his conversations even today. “I was introduced to politics in FC College. Aligarh introduced me to Pakistan. From a Marxist, I became a nationalist patriot.”

Even though he never took to the “fez and achkan,” the student uniform at Aligarh, he would put the patriotism he imbibed there – “the arsenal of Muslim India” – to work as a young bureaucrat building a new country. And he would not be alone in that. “We started from scratch and everyone, down to the clerks, worked hard building a new capital at Karachi,” he says. “We worked out of barracks, figuring out the files that came in from India and responding to the refugee crisis.”

For men in Pakistan’s nascent civil service, the trauma of Partition and the administrative challenges it threw up were a twin trial by fire (remember Sardar Patel’s ‘60 days’ remark). They rose to the occasion with a “nationalistic” fervour that was perhaps the outcome of all the expectations that came with Partition. Many of them having served in the Indian Civil Service (ICS), were experienced, trained and, therefore, expected to jump-start the administrative machinery of a new country. The ICS members were the most powerful officials in British India. They never numbered more than 1,100 at a given time, overseeing all official activities in a country of 300 million inhabitants, but they had a tradition of civil service going back almost a hundred years. The civil servants that Pakistan got, on the other hand, were to start their own tradition, or at the least resume the earlier one, after one of history’s most traumatic disruptions.

Perhaps, more importantly for the bureaucracy, it was an act of transformation from the narrow mission of the ICS – the steel frame erected to sustain British rule – to something bigger. The bureaucrats who opted to work in Pakistan were supposed to run the new country in accordance with the wishes of the people, not in line with a remote colonial capital’s dictates.

“After independence, the bureaucracy took on huge challenges such as refugee rehabilitation, housing, infrastructure, running urban centres and businesses vacated by the Hindus,” says Saeed Shafqat, the director of the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at FC College — Roedad Khan’s alma mater. “From that role, the civil service emerged as larger than life.” The super-bureaucrats were thus born.

The aura of pre-eminence and indispensability that these men exuded might also have come from the fact that the home-grown bureaucracy that evolved in the 1860s – after the disastrous War of Independence in 1857 – was a highly exclusive group of exceptionally talented natives. They were initially inducted in the administration because the British needed local representatives to minimise their own direct interaction with their Indian subjects. “Post 1857, the greatest challenge for the bureaucracy was to re-establish the writ of the Raj,” says Shafqat. “The first Indian to join the ICS [in 1857] was a Hindu Bengali [Satyendranath Tagore].”

This set the tone and trend for future recruitment in the ICS, generally from the educated upper caste Hindus and, particularly, from the highly sophisticated Bengalis. “When we look at the period between 1770 and 1860, the Bengalis and the Hindus were exposed to British style education whereas the Muslims were a hundred years behind them,” says Shafqat. While there were few native Indian officers in the ICS at the time of Partition, Muslim officers were even fewer.

In 1947, Pakistan was so short of officers to run its administrative services that many European members of the ICS stayed back to work for the new state. In 1950, seven top civilian officials in Pakistan were still British. Three provincial governors were also British, with ICS antecedents: Sir Francis Mudie (Punjab), Sir Frederick Bourne (East Bengal) and Sir George Cunningham (North West Frontier Province). The few Muslims who were there in the top echelons of power came to possess – and wield – all the administrative authority of the state.

Mohammad Qadeer, professor emeritus at the Queen’s University in Canada and the author of Pakistan: Social and Cultural Transformation in a Muslim Nation, notes that politicians at the time of Partition “were mostly from rural areas and not trained or educated; [they] grew dependent on [bureaucrats].” This, he says, allowed the myth of invincibility of civil servants to be created and promoted.

The colonial administrators also institutionalised a client-patron relationship between the bureaucracy and the native elite. The bureaucrats showered favours, such as land and titles, upon native feudal lords, religious leaders and tribal heads and they, in exchange, ensured social stability and smooth flow of revenues for the Raj. In time, bureaucrats came to be seen as providers of patronage and security, wielding power and influence among the natives many of whom – inspired by the power of bureaucracy to get things done – aspired to work in government so they, too, could enjoy the spoils of power.

It is a Friday morning and the sunlight winks through the soaring pine-heads in a street off Islamabad’s Margalla Road. Inside, a select group of mandarins, former bureaucrats, retired diplomats, ex-judges is engaged in a heated discussion on current affairs. All eyes are set on Roedad Khan, who seems like a ghost from the past — gaunt, frail and yet imposing in his warm tweed jacket. His long and chiseled jaws are made prominent by the shriveled skin around his cheeks and his Greek nose becomes the most dominant feature on his face. He raises and moves his thin index finger to moderate the discussion. There is no agenda, he says of the gathering that takes place with clockwork regularity at his home, “just people with enormous experience and background letting their hair down.”

Over tea and sandwiches, the discussion veers towards the military operation in North Waziristan. Perennially prone to making historical parallels, Roedad Khan invokes Sir George Cunningham, the first Governor General of the North West Frontier Province, who advised Jinnah on Pakistan’s policy towards the tribal areas. “[The British] were no friends of the tribal people,” he quotes Cunningham as saying to Jinnah, and then suggesting that Pakistan “withdraw troops from Miranshah and Mirali”, letting the scouts comprising of local population “take over and there will be no trouble in Waziristan”. Soon, he picks up another page of history. “The lesson I learned from Dhaka,” he says, “is to never, never use your army against your own people.”

Yet, his career, and that of many bureaucrats like him, has been spent in the service of military rulers, starting with Ayub Khan, who have embarked on many an oppressive military adventure against their own people. “We didn’t consider it necessary to oppose or resist martial law,” he argues. “It was not our job. It was the job of the judiciary and the politicians. Our job was to do our job and to do it right.” More often than not, doing that job meant usurping people’s basic political and human rights. Roedad Khan makes a feeble attempt to defend himself. “Unlike others, the moment I was free, I took to the streets.”

That most former bureaucrats in Pakistan have had the same, or similar, relationship with power is puzzling. When in power, they seem to be in charge of everything; once they are out of power, they blame everything on others. Autobiographies by many former bureaucrats, starting with Qudratullah Shahab’s Shahab Nama, read like long personal defenses of their years in government — they offer the right advice but are always ruled out by their superiors.

Roedad Khan does not dwell much on the controversial subjects of civil-military relations, the abuse of power by bureaucracy and corruption within its ranks. His book, A Dream Gone Sour, as the title suggests, is about wasted opportunities that Pakistan could have availed to prosper as a peaceful country. He lays the blame entirely on adventurous military rulers and insecure politicians such as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but is quick to defend any real or imagined role he had. “I was in civil service. I had to serve. I didn’t do anything wrong,” he insists in an interview with the Herald.

His career unambiguously illustrates who he was serving. Apart from enjoying prized postings under Ayub Khan, he served as the head of Pakistan Television during the historic 1970 election held by another military dictator, Yahya Khan. Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he was first made an officer on special duty – a euphemism for not having an active post – but then served as the federal secretary of tourism department. Again, under General Ziaul Haq he became the federal interior secretary, a position he occupied for a whole decade between 1978 and 1988. This put him at the top of the state’s suppressive machinery in those harsh years of military dictatorship.

When his tenure as the federal interior secretary came to an end, Roedad Khan should have retired but his friend, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who, by then, had become the president of Pakistan, created a new post for him – secretary general of the interior ministry, reminiscent of Chaudhry Muhammad Ali serving as Pakistan’s first secretary general – to keep him in service for another two years. When he finally quit the civil service, Roedad Khan was immediately appointed the minister of accountability during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s first tenure in power, in 1990. It was his ministry that prepared most of the corruption cases filed against Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, some of which continue to be heard in the courts even today.

When asked about it, Roedad Khan says Ghulam Ishaq Khan wanted Benazir Bhutto disqualified from contesting elections. He stops short of admitting that he helped his lifelong friend, and schoolfellow from Mardan, achieve his goal.

Perhaps in a manifestation of newfound political correctness in the post-Zia Pakistan, he takes pains to absolve himself of any role in Zulfikat Ali Bhutto’s hanging in 1979. “Contrary to popular belief, I never signed the execution order. The Central Jail Rawalpindi comes under the home secretary of Punjab, not the federal interior secretary who has a general security role. The Black Warrant came from Lahore. It came from the Home Department, Government of Punjab. The martial law authorities and the provincial home department made all the arrangements.” He forgets to mention the fact that the central government under Zia wielded all the power, with provincial administrations just running official errands.

He also vehemently denies his role in running an alleged election cell at the presidency in Islamabad to rig the 1990 election against Benazir Bhutto. “That’s a monstrous lie. I had nothing to do with the election cell and I said so before the Supreme Court. I said, let [General Aslam] Baig and [General Asad] Durrani come to the rostrum and deny it. Durrani rose and said I was not a part of it.”

Recovering from a bout of flu, a catheter sticking in the back of his hand, Roedad Khan looks every bit the frail man he is. But when he speaks, it is not hard to picture him as the young student at FC College, looking sharp in military jacket and breeches. His lively, alert manner belies his years. According to Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, a former diplomat and a regular at the Friday meetings at Roedad Khan’s home, “he is the youngest man in Islamabad.”

Or an old man possessed. When he is not down with sickness, he goes out to participate in political protests in the city – accompanied by his grandchildren – willfully violating Section 144 invoked by the government to discourage “unlawful assembly”. There is a case registered against him in a local police station. “I hope they arrest me. It would be something, putting a 91-year-old man in jail!” he muses.

The cynics might smirk. Having stayed in power for so long, they point out, Roedad Khan is refusing to realise that the sun has long set on his days in power as well as on the once omniscient bureaucracy he represented. Or, at least, he is still finding it difficult to reconcile with this fact of his personal, as well as national, life.

Most of the bureaucrats who converge at his Friday gatherings come from a generation that joined the civil service just before Bhutto’s 1973 reforms. They were inspired to join the civil service by such luminaries as Agha Shahi (credited for shaping Pakistan foreign policy early on during the Cold War), Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Roedad Khan — “the breed of bureaucrats who were hard-working and thorough,” according to Gauhar Zaman.

When these ‘inspiring’ figures ruled in the early to mid-1960s, the population of the country was small and the civil service was still a closely-knit elite club. Being “generalists” as opposed to specialists, as Mohammad Qadeer describes them, they were jacks of all trades. This second generation of super-bureaucrats “were our role models”, says Khalid Aziz who joined the bureaucracy in 1969. (He retired in early 2000s as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Secretary.) “We tried to walk in their footsteps, but they were giants.”

The times were propitious then. “That was the time when Pakistan was rising and you could plot the rise of civil service along that graph — the two went together,” says Aziz. Soon, the going got tough for the bureaucracy as well as for the country. “Post 1965, the military and the civil servants became exposed. We started hearing slogans like, ‘Naukar shahi nahi chalay gi’ (‘The rule of bureaucracy will not be tolerated’),” says Saeed Shafqat.

When the axe fell, it was swift and had a broad sweep. “Mindful of public resentment of the civil bureaucracy … for its role as the ‘bulwark’ of Ayub [Khan]’s regime, Yahya Khan suspended 303 senior civil servants on charges of corruption, misconduct or abuse of authority, tried them before specially constituted military tribunals, and then either dismissed them from service or forced their retirement,” says the International Crisis Group report. “Yahya also established a Services Reorganisation Committee to redress grievances against the bureaucracy.”

Altaf Gauhar, to give just one example, did not just lose his job, the government also withdrew the civil awards he had received under Ayub Khan.

When Bhutto came into power, he took such purges to an entirely new level. Most retired bureaucrats are unanimous in blaming him for changing what they call the “character of the service”. He first dismissed 1,300 civil servants and then, in 1973, sought to bring the civil service under political control. He took away the constitutional security of retirement at superannuation so that a senior serving bureaucrat could be thrown out of his job without too much trouble. The fear of dismissal made bureaucrats timid and obliging, leaving them vulnerable to “institutionalised manipulation by the political executive,” as pointed out by the International Crisis Group.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also “tinkered with the structure of civil service” by abolishing the Civil Service of Pakistan, the highest bureaucratic cadre at the time, in order to put an end to its monopoly over top government posts. He introduced Lateral Entry — chor darwaza (back door), as Roedad Khan puts it — through which 5,000 officials of various ranks and grades were directly recruited into the civil service, bypassing the mandatory selection criteria.

“Bypassing the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC)’s selection process, the cabinet secretary and a Special Selection Board (comprising of cabinet members and reporting directly to the prime minister) vetted applicants for posts of additional secretary in the federal secretariat, the second-highest rank in the civil bureaucracy,” says the International Crisis Group report. “Unsurprisingly, many “lateral entrants” were recruited more on political grounds than merit.”

How Roedad Khan survived all these upheavals is a bit of a mystery. His brother, Khaliq Khan, was a member of the National Assembly representing the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) but then he joined a group of rebel legislators who openly opposed the policies of the party’s leadership. Bhutto also suspected Roedad Khan of having close ties with the National Awami Party (NAP) which he considered his main opposition. “I have given you a second chance but you still keep bad company,” Roedad Khan recalls Bhutto telling him after his appointment as federal secretary of tourism in 1974. The purges, however, were not new to Pakistani bureaucracy, nor were lateral entrants. Ayub Khan was the first ruler to sack bureaucrats in large numbers; he was also the first one to induct outsiders into the civil service without regard to selection processes. “In 1960, five military officers were inducted laterally into the [civil service] and between 1960 and 1963, 14 young officers from the military joined the [civil service],” writes Ravi Shekhar Narain Singh in his book, The Military Factor in Pakistan. By agreeing to induct military officers in its cadres, he says, the civil service “was able to retain its elite status and leverages of administrative power.”

There is a deafening silence among former bureaucrats over the causes and effects of Ayub Khan’s actions. If anything is said, it is mostly in defense of the great dictator. Ayub Khan’s purges were meant to clear the dead wood at the top, says Roedad Khan. “He purged the bureaucracy because he was performance-oriented.” Then, he hints at something else, without really explaining its long-term impacts. “[Ayub Khan] also wanted to make room for the younger generation [of bureaucrats] so that he could promote them and they could be beholden to him. He trusted them with responsibility though, and gave them complete authority.”

As project director at Ghulam Muhammad Barrage and as Karachi’s commissioner, Roedad Khan knew from a position of advantage how those purges worked and to whose benefit.

These days, Roedad Khan is heard and seen vehemently backing “change” off the container-tops with Imran Khan but little is known about another cause he champions — environment. He calls his stint as secretary of the tourism department as “the happiest of my entire career”; it involved visiting some of the most beautiful places in Pakistan. His mornings are dedicated to the Margalla Hills where he goes walking at “the crack of dawn, seven days a week, with Wordsworthian enthusiasm.”

His enthusiasm for the hills is not just that of a nature lover but of a protector. Since the mid-1980s, he has led the Margalla Hills Society, fighting off commercial and industrial interests coveting the hills and the national park housed therein. “In the process, I have lost some good friends and made many enemies.”

But he is happy that his bureaucratic days and the anxieties and responsibilities of getting the job done are a thing of the past. “I was never as happy as I am now.” At long, long last, “I am a free citizen.”