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Punching bags

  Published June 1, 2022

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.


Twitter: @SyedSaadat55

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2022

After the march

  Published June 1, 2022 

IT was an abrupt [sudden] end to the much-hyped ‘freedom march’. Imran Khan’s threat to storm the capital with over a million people ended with a whimper. A few thousand supporters who had gathered at D-Chowk at his call on the night of May 25 after removing roadblocks, could not withstand the massive tear gas shelling for long.

Kaptaan turned back, leaving his supporters disappointed. He would later justify his decision to call off the ‘dharna’, saying that he feared that clashes with the law-enforcement agencies could lead to ‘bloodshed’, as according to him, his supporters were also armed. That sounds plausible [reasonable] given the prevailing tension.

Read more: Imran Khan says 'police brutality' on Azadi marchers 'condemnable and unacceptable'

Yet that may not have been the only reason for Imran Khan’s turnabout. He might have seen the violence coming when he gave the call. In fact, to his utter disappointment, only a trickle of people, instead of the millions he hoped for, turned up to storm the capital and bring down the so-called imported government. The promised ‘revolution’ failed. The use of brute force and the blocking of roads by the government may have deterred many marchers from joining.

The massive public response to his populist nationalist rhetoric must have swayed [move backward and forward] the former prime minister to think that the support could be turned into an agitational force to bring down the government. It was a sheer miscalculation on his part, and one that led to a political setback for him. He seems to have learnt nothing from his 2014 political misadventure.

Political confrontation remains a major hurdle in the way of moving forward.

Imran Khan has now ensconced [settled] himself in Peshawar, his bastion [گڑھ] of power, trying to rethink his strategy. His six-day deadline for the government to dissolve the Assembly and announce the election date ends today. He has threatened to return to Islamabad with ‘millions of marchers’ if his demands are not accepted.

Read: Will use KP's force when Imran calls next march

Meanwhile, the chief minister of KP has threatened to deploy the “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa force” to defy any restrictions on the march. Such a situation could lead to the violence that the former prime minister claims to have tried to avoid by calling off the protest last week. Certainly, the government’s ruthless use of force against the PTI supporters and crackdown on the party leadership cannot be condoned [قبول کرنا]. But neither can the threat of violence by PTI party leaders be justified on any pretext.

Curiously, Imran Khan has also been looking to the Supreme Court to ensure what he describes as his democratic right to hold a peaceful rally. There may not be any harm in referring to the Supreme Court for the protection of one’s democratic and human rights. But there is a growing tendency among political parties to drag the apex court into political issues that should be resolved in parliament and other elected forums. It is thus not surprising that the judiciary quite often encroaches [تجاوز کرنا] upon those areas that fall in the domain of the executive and legislature. That unnecessarily makes the Supreme Court controversial.

From his rhetoric, it appears that Imran Khan seeks to bring the apex court and other state institutions under pressure. He has cast doubts on the judges who ruled against his unconstitutional action of dissolving the National Assembly in April. He certainly doesn’t believe in resolving political issues in parliament or holding discussions with other political parties.

Imran Khan’s decision that PTI lawmakers should quit the National Assemblyseems to have pushed the party into a blind alley, given the fact that it cannot force its way through agitational politics. The events of May 25 are a lesson to learn. The party could have played a more effective role in parliament.

Some media reports on the divisions within the PTI leadership over the MNAs’ resignation issue do not come as a surprise. Sitting out of parliament until next year when elections are due will certainly not help the party in the polls. Interestingly, the party leadership has decided to maintain an ambiguous [الجھن کا شکار] position on the resignations; it has decided not to appear individually before the Speaker and the Election Commission as required under the Constitution.

It is indeed a deliberate move by the PTI leadership to keep the Lower House ineffective. It was exactly what the PTI did in 2014 during its four-month-long dharna outside parliament. Such an irrational stance will undermine the democratic political process. Chaos and the use of violence will only encourage extra-constitutional action as we have witnessed many times in the past.

Meanwhile, what happened on May 25 must not be seen as a triumph[فتح] for the PML-N-led coalition[اتحادی] government that is virtually hanging by a thread. After weeks of uncertainty, the Sharif government has finally decided to complete the full term of the National Assembly. It has also begun taking some long overdue actions to stabilise the economy.

Last week, the government finally slashed the subsidy on petroleum products [پٹرولیم مصنوعات پر سبسڈی ختم کردی], clearing the way for the revival of the stalled [تعطل کا شکار] IMF programme. But these measures are not enough to resolve a serious economic crisis. The existing polarisation and the worsening state of political confrontation remain a major hurdle in the way of moving forward.

It is mainly the government’s responsibility to lower political temperatures. But unfortunately, the aggressive tenor of some of its ministers is contributing to the tension. Many opposition leaders have been booked on various charges, adding to mutual hostility.

One of the reasons for the ruling coalition to complete the term was to carry out electoral reforms. But any unilateral reform will not help make the coming elections credible. Similarly, the hasty changes in NAB laws also expose the government to criticism that the amendments are meant to end corruption cases against some top leaders in the ruling alliance.

Read more: Nawaz, Shehbaz 'direct beneficiaries' of NAB law amendments, says Qureshi

It is apparent that the government, with its short term in office and surrounded by political instability, cannot be expected to deliver on any front. Early elections that could produce a stable government are the only solution to the present political and economic crises. But for that, it is imperative [اہم] to make the elections credible.

The writer is an author and journalist.


Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2022

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