Hit and left to die – by S Khalid Husain

The Punjab chief secretary left the scene of the accident after his chauffeur-driven vehicle knocked down and killed an ex-army officer; this was a cold-blooded act no different from that of a hit-and-run driver. This was a grave error on part of the chief secretary and speaks volumes for the arrogance and colonial mindset of the country’s bureaucrats.

Maybe saying ‘colonial mindset’ is being unfair to the colonial civil servant, who would never have left the scene, and never mind if he was not driving, without making absolutely certain that the victim was fully tended, in good hands, and under professional care. The Pakistan civil service was patterned after the Indian Civil Service (ICS), but there must be something different in the training of Pakistani civil servants, for they seem to have missed the work credo of ICS and lapped up the awe-inspiring demeanour of ICS officers, which they put on to inspire awe for the Raj.

If one spends time in the British Library in London reading what the British civil servants have contributed to the knowledge of history, culture, social forces, agriculture and a lot more, one will find that the scholarship of the writers is impressive. Apparently, such written treatises on their districts, and other assignments, were a service requirement of the ICS cadre and influenced their career progression, much as research and publishing papers influence academic careers in better universities.

There are Pakistani civil servants who have made significant literary contributions, some fewer who have also contributed to enhancement of knowledge in their fields, be it administration, agriculture, industry, customs, taxation, economics, finance or foreign affairs. Almost all the vast majority, however, have counted on other factors, particularly political patronage, for career advancement. Examples of these abound in the current dispensation, including the recent en masse upgrading by the prime minister with the stroke of a pen of 54 civil servants to the highest grade.

If the quality of civil servants in Pakistan, and of their output, has steadily deteriorated over the years, and the slide continues, the reason is the patronage system that has almost entirely replaced the merit-based system, and which has turned civil servants from being the iron mesh that holds the country’s administration together into mush at the hands of political or military rulers.

The chief minister of Punjab remained aloof for many days hoping the accident would be forgotten like the other unsavoury acts in the past. All credit to the media for bringing the Sharif brothers to life and discomfiting them enough to make them visit the grieving family to condole.

It seems strange though that the senior Sharif learned about ‘new facts’ during his condolence with the grieving family. This really boggles the mind. What kind of facts was he learning for so many days before he came to condole? Or does he suffer from a short attention span?

The chief secretary said he was going on leave so the inquiry can be conducted in his absence and he is not seen as influencing this. However, replacing him as acting chief secretary was not the additional chief secretary, but a new officer said to be very close to the hit-and-run chief secretary. This could almost be as if the errant chief secretary was not on leave.

The inspector general (IG), Punjab Police, did not know what to do or say. So what came out of him was nervousness. Not in his wildest dream had he imagined that he would have had to act against a serving chief secretary so when the time came, he and his force just did not know what to do. So they did nothing except lock the thana gates to keep at bay the family of the victim, till a higher-up could tell the police what to do.

The PPP governor of Punjab, never one to miss an opportunity to be of service to his benefactor in the presidency, waded into the affair trying to gain maximum political mileage by roping the Sharifs in the sordid happening as the chief secretary’s backers, and for their inaction after the accident. He claimed the chief secretary was personally close to the Punjab chief minister, he was the CM’s chosen man, and through misuse of his position the chief secretary had turned his lands into prime property.

The governor may be right on all of the above, but he was terribly wrong in trying to gain political profit from the tragedy and grief of one family. For the governor, when it comes to showing down his benefactor’s opponents, such finesse is for the birds.

Whether or not the Sharifs will be more graceful when their time comes is not known.

The above tells the sad story of governance in the province and indeed in the country; of how shallow the system is, how ineffective it is when it comes to general, not selective, application of law; how deeply entrenched authoritarianism is even under what is loudly claimed to be democracy.

There are only three institutions the nation now looks upon with some hope – the judiciary, media and army. The last one is also looked at for doing its duty under law to aid constitutional and legal civilian institutions, if as a last resort it has to be called upon to do so.

The writer is former corporate executive. Email: husainsk@cyber.net.pk
Source: The News



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