Changing gears

27 Mar 2016


The writer is a former caretaker finance, planning & development minister, and has served as chairman of the Sindh Revenue Board.
The writer is a former caretaker finance, planning & development minister, and has served as chairman of the Sindh Revenue Board.

THE PPP’s recent agreement to the appointment of a new inspector general of police for Sindh may signify a turning point in the party’s thinking. Mr A.D. Khawaja, the new inspector general of police, is generally well regarded as an honest officer with the ability to resist pressure. Although, whenever I was associated with the Sindh government I have always found myself in one disagreement or the other with him, he is one of the almost extinct breed of senior police officers in Sindh who has so far in his career been committed to upholding the law as far as possible.

However, it is not the new inspector general’s person but what his appointment signifies that is of note.

His appointment may show an emerging understanding at Sindh’s ruling party level that a more independent and effective police may be an asset. The fact that the current home minister, Mr Sohail Siyal, played an instrumental role in the appointment would indicate that the appointment has the full support of the political wing of the party in Sindh within which Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and MNA Faryal Talpur hold the most influence.

The appointment has an added significance insofar as it is the first visible administrative act of the Sindh government which genuinely indicates to the permanent establishment of Pakistan that the party is willing to work with it on key administrative objectives.

The history of the PPP regarding management and administration is peculiar. It has traditionally demonstrated belief in a political paradigm borrowed from its socialist tradition which demands that officials of the government should be subordinate to the party’s political cadre. Such subordination was the essence of the communist administrations introduced in countries like Russia and China after their respective revolutions. In these countries, the Marxist view that the law was a socioeconomic mechanism to keep the masses poor and the means of production securely in the hands of the rich was accepted as revolutionary gospel.

The new IG’s appointment could mean the PPP wants to change its image.

Consequently, in communist states and their satellites the administrative recipe was to subordinate law and state institutions to the revolutionary cadres of the communist party whose decision-making was purportedly dictated by the pursuit of economic egalitarianism rather than following the law or constitution which was the model of Western democracies.

There was not much appetite for this kind of a communist system in Pakistan of the late 1960s and early 1970s so the PPP’s leaders at the time led by Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto created a socialist manifesto but within a democratic framework.

Mr Bhutto himself a barrister was acutely aware of the need for such a balanced constitution in a diverse state like Pakistan but there was always a tension between his party’s desire to force revolutionary socialist choices down the throat of its opponents and constitutional law which protected such opponents.

The measures undertaken by Mr Bhutto for the empowerment of political cadres together with subordination of state institutions to the party caused an intense reaction amongst the political opponents of the PPP and resulted in polarisation in Pakistan.

Under Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, with socialism globally in political retreat, the PPP was reinvented as a more inclusive party but the need to dominate the bureaucracy was still a driving force. However, the ministers who were required to dominate the state machinery were constituency politicians rather than party technocrats.

Plagued by limited management resources, it was difficult for them to work the law for their objectives. Instead, they tried to strike up partnerships with venal bureaucrats rather than developing pat­ro­­nage structures through intelligent developmental economics. The result was that the party acquired a crude venal image which has plagued every PPP government including the present one in Sindh.

The appointment of the new inspector general is clearly a high-profile indication of a desire to change the venal image. More significantly, however, the PPP in Sindh is now also appearing to signal that it is willing to subordinate its political interests to the need for administrative order. This could be both good news and bad.

The good news is that it might win the PPP some respite from being continuously politically pilloried. The bad news is that in the absence of a strategic well-ordered dialogue with the establishment which could ensure transition from the current crude political patronage model towards a marginally more sophisticated developmental model like in Punjab, the party could lose its political patronage power and as a consequence face internal tensions which may lead to its fragmentation. With an already restive Balochistan a politically fragmented Sindh would be an unnecessary addition to the political problems of Pakistan.

The writer is a former caretaker finance, planning & development minister, and has served as chairman of the Sindh Revenue Board.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2016