THE following is an excerpt from an article, ‘Rebels needed’, that I had written for these pages in 2014, ie over three years ago: “If the efforts of the PML-N to breed a DMG-N (District Management Group) and PSP-N (Police Service of Pakistan) are not halted, the country will lurch from one crisis to the next. As a group, civil servants should be politically neutral. But at the same time, their affiliation to the state should not diminish.”
One would expect a lot to change since then but in Pakistan the more things change the more they stay the same. The prime minister has changed, the nomenclature District Management Group has changed to the Pakistan Administrative Service but the inclination of the government to politicise the civil service has not subsided even a little.
After the recent arrest of Mr Ahad Cheema, former director general Lahore Development Authority, many officers are protesting against the so-called highhandedness of NAB. There is a rebellion of sorts in the civil bureaucracy of Punjab: the question is, do we need these kind of rebels?
Do we need these kind of rebels?
If Mr Ahad Cheema is innocent, he would be out in a matter of weeks with an unblemished reputation. One cannot deny the right to question a public servant only because a certain public servant is a blue-eyed boy of the incumbent government. Democracy is about transparency and unlike a monarchy there should be no sacred cows in a democracy.
Another pertinent question is that was there a protest by any civil servants when a DMG officer having no relevant experience was appointed managing dirctor Nandipur power plant and ran the project allegedly accruing losses in billions? If this new breed of rebels is so conscientious, one expects a few voices to be raised against all such appointments as well — but no, not a whimper.
There is good reason that government servants are barred from taking part in active politics or being a member of any political party. At times, political affiliations can lead to victimisation and at others to corruption. Power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely. The case against Ahad Cheema will be decided by a court of law, but no one, be it the chief minister himself, is above the law.
The recent news conference by Rana Sanaullah, Punjab’s law minister, where he tacitly encouraged the point of view of the protesting and striking officers is also paradoxical because some months ago, it was his own government that allowed doctors protesting against the lack of service structure to be manhandled.
It is pertinent to ask why he is backing the rebels and why isn’t an action like the one taken against Muhammad Ali Nekokara being contemplated for the defiant officials who are protesting NAB’s action.
Nekokara was dismissed from service after a brief inquiry following his decision to not use force against protesters during the PTI dharna in 2014 despite receiving clear orders to do the same.
There is a lesson in all this — that civil servants should not be loyal to individuals but to the state. But it is easier said than done because ambition is a bad thing and vanity is even worse. It makes individuals seek shortcuts and lose sight of the true objective.
An all-powerful political leader, who poses as bigger than the state itself seems a much better choice to be loyal to instead of committing to a flailing state.
The proponents of democracy often say that the masses are all-wise, all-knowing, that they make the correct choices via the ballot. I disagree with this narrative for it is too naïve to believe that poor masses can reflect on intricate games of power politics which lead to politicisation of every administrative organ of the state. The rules must be set before taking the case to the so-called people’s courts.
Arguably Pakistan’s most popular leader is setting the wrong trend of asking “mujhay kyun nikala” rather than explaining himself in court.
True leaders are ready to make great sacrifices for the country and here we have one who is eroding the very writ of the state. If the establishment is considered a mafia which it is, then so is the anti-establishment claptrap taken up by the PML-N’s father-and-daughter. We have had enough of these mafias, now is the time to give the poor gullible people of Pakistan an honest, truthful, and tolerant leadership. But where will we find it?
It seems that the general public is the real loser in this tug of war between the two mafias; perhaps the following verses by Ghalib explain their ordeal. Chalta hun thori door har ik tez rou k sath/ pehchanta nahi hun abhi rehbar ko main (For years now, I am unable to find a true leader. Hence for a little while, I follow every emerging wave).
The writer is a former civil servant.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2018