THE most difficult thing in Pakistan is to reclaim the space — physical or ideological — that the state has ceded to various mafia. I don’t need to comment or elaborate on how and where the extremist forces took over from the moderate ones and how the ideals of Jinnah were lost in this ideological tug of war.
I would confine myself to the physical space the state machinery has surrendered to those driven solely by personal interest at the cost of public interest. Here are a few examples from the recent past.
According to the revenue record, the width of the Talagang-Mianwali Road is 25 metres but at some points it has been reduced to as little as 16m, which means public land has been encroached upon. A young officer on his first posting as assistant commissioner decided to correct the anomaly and reclaim the state land. After a lot of deliberation and establishing beyond doubt that state land had been encroached upon, an anti-encroachment drive was launched. Soon Talagang started to look more like the town it should be with wide bazaars and roads.
But it did not last long. First the officer was warned to stop or bear the consequences as the relative of a local politician was among the encroachers. The officer, like many young officers, thought that he had the power of the state with him, only to be proven wrong a few weeks later, when he was removed from his position. He is awaiting another posting now. An officer who is made OSD so early in his career is usually marked as problematic and this blotch continues to haunt him for the rest of his career. Meanwhile, in Talagang life goes on as usual.
Quality human resource is abandoning the civil service as well as the country.
Take the case of a former assistant commissioner of Ubauro in district Ghotki, Sindh.
He was doing some fine work but again the local land mafia was not happy with the anti-encroachment drive. Efforts were made to transfer the officer but when they did not bear fruit, the local mullahs issued a fatwa against the officer and the rest, as they say, is history.
The officer left the country on a scholarship and is currently studying in the UK and might resign from service instead of returning. Meanwhile, in Ubauro life goes on as usual.
It is well known that the Punjab police transfers its officers at the whim of politicians. A relative of an influential politician shot his servant in the leg. The matter was reported to the police and a couple of weeks later the investigating officer was transferred. The reason was simple: the officer had dared to summon the accused to the police station in order to record his statement. There is a long list of officers in Punjab who have been transferred as a result of ego wars of the ruling party’s politicians.
People who take pride in their work and continue to do it even if no one is monitoring them are pre-requisites to stop terror attacks like the one in Lahore. The only defence mechanism against such attacks is a stronger system of policing and surveillance.
That is possible only if we keep persons at pivotal positions committed to excellence and do not expect them to make any concessions to anyone while doing their job properly. Members of a uniformed force work as a team and the junior ranks look up to their officers.
If the officers have to cut a sorry figure for even a principled stance, their morale plummets.
A civil servant cannot back off from what he or she promises to deliver because it becomes a precedent — then anyone in a similar position is made to do it over and over again. No one can stand and win against these nefarious forces as an individual; it has to be a collective effort by state institutions. The army does well because they have the impunity and authority to do what they deem fit.
The judgement of everyone from the COAS to a second lieutenant is given due respect in their respective spheres and that is what makes things work.
Expecting better results from civilian officers while the civilian institutions fail to respect their judgement is living in a fool’s paradise.
Lastly, such practices have led quality human resource to not only abandon the civil service but the country as well. So many politicians already have the option to retreat to a palatial life abroad with the help of the money they have ‘earned’ during their reign here.
To be blunt, there is hardly anyone who does not want to leave this country; the only ones left would be those who do not have anywhere to go. Some terror attack might put them out of their misery. Till then life goes on as usual.
The writer is a former civil servant.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2016