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Double standards

February 18, 2019


The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

THE first six months of the PTI government have seen some bold decisions. Doing away with subsidy on utilities, an aggressive anti-encroachment drive and peace overtures towards neighbouring India despite a cold response from the latter are a few examples. The fact that the government is pushing media houses to come up with sustainable financial models instead of relying on government advertisements for revenue is also being talked of as a bold move.

Another such decision is the recent recall by the government, of all political appointees from ambassadorial assignments. According to Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, all of them have been replaced by career diplomats and the government proposed their names based on their skills and experience.

Such measures can go a long way in discouraging sycophancy and establishing professionalism. However, there is one glaring anomaly in this quest for ‘Do nahi aik Pakistan’ which essentially promises a Pakistan where no double standards are employed to deal with the privileged and underprivileged, but as they say, promises are the sweetest lies.

This quest has taken the civilian organisations to budgetary cuts, the auction of vehicles, and disciplinary action and inquiries against government officials at the drop of a hat whereas on the other hand nothing has changed for the security establishments. It just seems that the all-important office in Rawalpindi did not get the naya Pakistan memo at all.

As they say, promises are the sweetest lies.

I have spent enough time in Pakistan to know that anything in the name of religion or security in this country is out of bounds for any logical debate, which is why I am not suggesting a cut in the defence budget. Any such measure might cause too big a storm to handle, but the winds of change can at least try to make modifications in the areas discussed here.

“It seems appalling that we have to make do with a diplomat who is only there because he couldn’t fulfil his dream of being a police superintendent or customs official,” is what the celebrated Indian diplomat-turned-politician Shashi Tharoor had to say while discussing the Indian foreign service.

This diagnosis appears to be also true for Pakistan where the methodology of selection through the CSS exam is similar. But in Pakistan there is another backdoor to becoming a diplomat. The fact that those who join the armed forces and are trained to fight the enemy with weapons are appointed to try and win friends through diplomacy is perhaps more appalling than what Mr Tharoor pointed out. I am referring to the 10 per cent quota that the armed forces enjoy for direct induction into the civil service in three prized groups namely Foreign Service, Police Service and Pakistan Administrative Service without taking any competitive exam.

This was introduced in Gen Zia’s regime and like so many other rules to do with the security establishment no political government has dared to reverse it. My argument is simple: if security personnel can be inducted into the civil service just like that, then the doctors, lawyers and engineers working for the government in some capacity should also get a similar privilege. After all, in naya Pakistan there should not be any discrimination based on colour, be it black, white or khaki.

Similarly, the prime minister has time and again mentioned the need to do away with sprawling deputy commissioner houses and governor houses, but why not a single word about the golf courses, clubs, guest houses and palatial houses for senior security brass managed by the forces? As many as three posh sectors namely E-8, E-9 and E-10 in the heart of Islamabad have been allotted to the navy, air force and army respectively. No other department enjoys such exclusive privilege. Just like the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, the presidency or Parliament Lodges, a security complex housing all the requisite offices of the armed forces for better coordination with the federal government would have been enough. Why doesn’t all this catch the vigilant eye of the founders of naya Pakistan?

The Faizabad sit-in suo motu case judgement order passed by the Supreme Court has put emphasis on how state institutions should work within their respective spheres. But if institutions cannot be stopped when it comes to comparatively ‘trivial’ matters that involve encroaching on public space, how can they be stopped from encroaching on political space?

Lastly, a couple of events in recent days. While former president Pervez Musharraf enjoyed the PSL opening ceremony in Dubai, Dr Abdus Samad, an accomplished archaeologist, a Fulbright alumni and perhaps the only PhD in Sanskrit was arrested by NAB, KP, for employing a few low-paid workers to protect archaeological sites from illegal excavations, all that only for the love of heritage.

It says it all about the double standards employed by government institutions when it comes to dealing with haves and have-nots.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Twitter: @SyedSaadat52

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2019