WHAT is most striking about our echelons of power is them being littered by grown men utterly incapable of speaking their minds to anyone ahead of them in the food chain. Our slimy ethic of success promotes the shrewd and not the bright, the grovellers and not the scrupulous, tongue-tied biddable lackeys and not anyone with half a spine intact. How did sycophancy, hypocrisy and timidity masquerading as reverence for authority become so embedded in our grain?
Muhammad Ali Nekokara, former SSP Operations Islamabad, now dismissed from service, hadn’t imbibed the ethic of success. During the height of the PTI dharna, he had the gall to render his professional opinion to his superiors: that use of force to subdue protesters must be eschewed as it could cause a Model Town-like tragedy; and that strong-arm measures could backfire and hurt our democracy. How dare a mid-ranking officer conceive a role other than to serve his political masters?
The Sharif regime and its minions thus concluded that if they survive the PTI’s onslaught the next order of business must be to save Pakistan from the Nekokara malignancy: civil servants who distinguish loyalty to the state from personal allegiance to the regime in power; who see themselves as serving the people, not political lords; who threaten to apply their own minds in discharge of their legal duties as opposed to blindly following orders.
What is most amusing about the Nekokara case are the excuses used to shunt him out. He hasn’t been dismissed from service (the severest punishment under the Public Servants Discipline and Efficiency Rules) for extrajudicial killings, or for allowing jailbreaks, or for being corrupt, or for refusing to follow orders (lawful or otherwise). He is charged with misrepresentation: he wrote to the officer above him that he was loath to use force thus insinuating that he was being asked to do so when he wasn’t being so asked.
Imagine an SSP so vile and conniving that he would write to his IG on Aug 31 (the morning after Constitution Avenue hosted pitched battles between the police and PTI/PAT protesters) advising that more force ought not be used for crowd control. Imagine an officer so unprofessional that he would ask to be posted out, if his superiors disagreed with his professional opinion, at a time when palaces on Constitutional Avenue were under siege by enemy forces. Imagine a civil servant so politicised that he had the audacity to spare a thought for democratic principles when considering how best to exercise his powers.
The Nekokara case is only the latest example of the gap between the law and its implementation.
The second amusing fact about the Nekokara case is that the PML-N regime actually took his advice, abided by it but also dismissed him. Had a Model Town been repeated on Constitution Avenue who knows what message might have come from the corps commanders’ conference that advised the prime minister to resolve the issue “politically … without recourse to violent means”.
The Nekokara case isn’t about the future of one police officer. It is about citizens’ fundamental rights, the manner in which public authority is to be exercised in a democracy, the relationship between the state and its citizens and the role of intermediaries (ie political office holders and civil servants) in shaping that relationship. Interestingly, all these issues have already been considered and addressed by the Supreme Court. The Nekokara case is only the latest manifestation of the yawning gap between the law and its implementation.
Is police an agency for protection and benefit of the people of Pakistan or is it a coercive weapon in the hands of whoever is in control of the government? If the police exist to protect citizens, their foremost duty during a protest must be to treat citizens in accordance with the law and to ensure that their lives and liberties aren’t taken away except in accordance with due process (as required by Articles 4 and 9 of the Constitution) as opposed to establishing order in a draconian fashion to soothe the rulers angered by the protests against them.
Are civil servants, servants of the state and its people, or personal servants of individuals who constitute the government? In Syed Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi vs. Federation, the Supreme Court held that civil servants, “in their capacity as advisers in decision-making or as administrators and enforcers of law… are not obliged to be servile or unthinkingly submissive to the political executive. One of their prime duties is to give advice in the best public interest and to administer the law impartially”.
Our state has turned predatory because those in power think of themselves as lords whose whims are not to be challenged, and who are entitled to use state authority and largesse to entrench personal patronage systems. These public office holders don’t see themselves as trustees of delegated authority to be exercised for the benefit of the people. The purpose of seeking office is to control power and use it for self-gain. Within this scheme the Nekokaras who insist on doing the right thing are not just a nuisance but a hurdle.
This government wishes to make a horrible example of Nekokara to let it be known to all and sundry that when as a civil servant you are told to do something you don’t apply your own mind or ponder over the legality of the command. You just follow orders. Having learnt no lessons from history and blinded by power yet again, the PML-N can’t appreciate that once out of office it is not sycophants but the Nekokaras of Pakistan that are the surest guarantee against persecution at the hands of tomorrow’s masters.
But politicos alone aren’t to blame. IG Muhammad Amlash as inquiry officer found Nekokara liable for misconduct and Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry recommended his dismissal. They should know better. Will they discover the need for job security and de-politicisation of the civil service once they retire? Let there be no doubt that they are the agents, like those before them equally self-servingly ambitious, who on behalf of their masters have poked holes in what was once the steel frame of this pitiable state.
The writer is a lawyer.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2015