THE last order Imran Khan signed as prime minister of Pakistan was to transfer his principal secretary Azam Khan to the Establishment Division — as per sources on his specific request. Why Azam Khan would have requested such a transfer is not difficult to understand after what the Imran Khan government did with Fawwad Hassan Fawwad, the principal secretary of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Numerous inquiries were initiated against him and he retired unceremoniously while in jail.
Imagine if Imran Khan had not resorted to vindictive accountability against the principal secretary of the former prime minister, and had, instead, asked him to continue working for a month or so with the incoming government and hand over the responsibilities to the incoming principal secretary. Such an arrangement would have definitely helped the new PTI government settle down and also counter the headwinds that all regimes face in their early days. The principal secretary to the prime minster is neither a political figure nor a political office. A seasoned bureaucrat handing over the reins to another seasoned bureaucrat in a smooth transition of government can bring no harm.
He could have briefed the incoming principal secretary and government on the projects they have started and their impact. Similarly, had the mindset been geared towards the public, the former prime minister would have preferred a proper handover of the reins of government, despite ideological differences, so that projects of public importance were not overlooked. At the end of the day, the purpose of every democratic government is the welfare of the people. But, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and this was not meant to be. Imran Khan tried to disrupt everything from the very first day in office; as prime minister, he wielded an air of arrogance and sent everyone packing until everyone sent him packing.
The problem with such politics is that there must be a burning issue all the time and if there is none, one endeavours to create it even if it means throwing the civil or military bureaucracy under the bus. The military top brass was somewhat insulated from this reaction, but it, too, seems to be feeling the heat. The ousted prime minister wants the military to be not only political but partisan as well. The military can afford to be political but being partisan would bring it into an arena where civil servants have spent a long time and lost their credibility. No one remembers the first civil servant who sided with a political party or favoured one party at the cost of doing his job honestly, but whoever that was, he opened the door for such behaviour forever. Once you cross the point of no return, there is, indeed, no going back.
Many bureaucrats have no choice but to call it a day.
Nonetheless, civil servants are meant to assist political governments, irrespective of their political ideology, and to the best of their abilities. Their assistance does not make them political as they are made out to be by opposing political parties. They should not be grilled for doing a good job under a government, because their loyalty lies with the state and not with a political party.
When civil servants are victimised, the loss is that of the state of Pakistan. Lack of quality human resource has always been a problem in the government sector. When bright, talented individuals are victimised, they either lose motivation or simply quit. One example of brain drain is that of Ahad Cheema — former DG Lahore Development Authority — who decided to resign from government service as he believes his ability to make decisions solely on merit might be haunted by the victimisation he has gone through at the hands of NAB. When asked who would run the country if everyone started throwing in the towel like this, he said ask the guys from NAB to come and run the show.
Pertinent to mention here is the fact that civil servants are not individuals who quit quickly. Anyone who has been part of Pakistan’s civil service knows that it is not a cakewalk from the very first day to the last. The CSS exam, the political pressures, the public pressure, the meagre salaries, the expectation to deliver even in the absence of infrastructure and to cater to the whims of politicians are just a few aspects of service that are braved by civil servants. But political witch-hunts against them, name-calling and being used as punching bags just to further political ends does not leave them with many options but to hang up their boots.
Lastly, perhaps the following verses by Ahmed Faraz truly sum up the plight of civil servants like Ahad Cheema and many like him: “Gariftaa dil thay maggar hoslaa na haara tha/ Gariftaa dil hain maggar hoslay bhi ab ke gaye.” (Disappointed I was, but, had not lost hope/ Disappointed I am, and this time, hope is gone too.)
The writer is a former civil servant.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2022