Mosharraf Zaidi: Counter-terrorism through the civil service

The attack on the Lahore police training facility yesterday, which as of the time of this article’s writing had not ended, should wake Pakistan up. There is an existential monster that Pakistanis are unable to acknowledge because of the weakness of their Muslim faith. This weakness is exacerbated by the average Pakistani Muslim’s dependence on unholy mullahs whose money-ing by General Zia, radical Saudis, and the joint efforts of the CIA and the ISI is now proving to be the single gravest threat to the sustainability of Pakistan as an operational entity.

The ostrich-like reaction to terrorism
is driven by the average Pakistani’s inability to debate the mullah, and an unwillingness to invest the effort and time required to tame that mullah. Abandoned and let loose by the “shurafa” that once were able to tame the mullah, and to speak his language, the mullah’s new master–the comfort of Land Cruisers and bottled water–has no scruples.

In the long run, Pakistan cannot be saved until Pakistan’s Muslims take back the mosque. This is not a call to start performing qawwalis in mosques. The faux religiosity of hashish-smoking rock-and-rollers pretending to be holier than thou is as much of a scam as the faux religiosity of mullahs insisting that they are the gatekeepers of Paradise. You cannot win the culture wars against orthodoxy with pseudo-Sufism, any more than the Dixie Chicks can win the culture wars against Mike Huckabee and the righteous American right. You can however beat the orthodoxy with the language of faith. There is, quite simply, no basis in Sharia for any of the violence that has been spawned, financed and executed by the monsters that the world’s best intelligence agencies–whatever country they may be from–helped incubate. To expect those same agencies to somehow know how to conquer a monster to which they are beholden is ridiculous.

But how are Pakistan’s Muslims supposed to take back the mosque when they are scared of going to them? This is the twisted core objective of the terrorists, to completely monopolise religion, and to use that space to pursue their real agenda. And what is their real agenda?

Watching video of Sufi Mohammed make his way from Swat to Peshawar in a jeep marked with the number plate “TSNM – 1” was instructive. The spectacle was only marginally comical. It provided the strangest of insights into Pakistan. The TSNM just wants the piece of pie that it has watched young ACs, DCs, DCOs, SSPs, MNAs, MPAs, DPOs and, yes, even NGOs enjoy to the fullest. It wants the full fruits of state protocol. It wants the flashing lights at the head of the convoy. It wants that the road should clear and traffic should split, in a manner reminiscent of the Prophet Moses parting the River Nile by the grace and kind mercy of the Good Lord. The TSMN just wants the same goodies that the Brahmin bureaucrats, cops and politicians have enjoyed from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices and cars for a long, long time. So we should really call what has happened in Swat, for what it really is. It’s the Brahminsation of the shudra mullah. And that explains the outrage of the wannabe-elite bureaucrats at Pakistan’s deteriorating security situation. At its heart beats insecurity. The shudras are trying to take away their black Corollas, their multiple mobile phones, and their vast caches of cash, lying at the bottom of the rent-seeking pyramid.

How do these merchants of fear and slaughter earn the legitimacy to demand and win such concessions, both from the people and from the state?

Largely on the back of the illegitimacy of those that have been enjoying state privilege and protocol. It does not take a genius for a local mullah to point the finger and demonise a twenty-something assistant commissioner, who is more enamoured by his Blackberry than the problems his “subjects” face, never attends the mosque, except Fridays, and is so genuinely sure of himself that he can’t look the common folk in the eye. It does not take much to delegitimise an MPA whose road scheme only benefits the village he is from, and the farmland that belongs to his father. It does not take much to delegitimise a police official who is seen to be corrupt and in cahoots with troublesome patwaris. The rot at the bottom is gently and carefully nurtured by the top of the local administrative structures in this country.

Local administration is in fact a great example of the myopia that plagues Pakistan’s bureaucrats. The real battle over decentralisation, tragically, is that retired one-time DCs and commissioners are so enamoured with their lifetimes of administrative failure that they want their heirs (both genetic and cadre-based) to retain magistracy powers. It is an unmitigated disgrace that crusty old retired bureaucrats somehow burrow their way into the right ear of political leaders to pursue the narrowest of personal agendas.

The separation of magisterial powers from the administrative functions of the district coordination officer (DCO) is a cause of searing pain for the District Management Group (DMG). It is the one thing Gen Musharraf did that was truly intolerable for the DMG and their predecessor CSP cadres. The General’s demolition job on the Constitution does not bother a strapping young DMG lad as much as the taking away of judicial powers that were once vested in the twenty-something boy. This self-centred ethos of the Pakistani civil service, personified by the DMG, but shared across all occupational groups, is ripping the heart out of the state’s capacity to deal with the demonic attacks on this country’s people, such as the one in Lahore yesterday.

This is not to suggest that the bureaucracy is in any way not capable of doing its job. Quite the contrary, in fact. Even after the 1974 Bhutto reforms and their devastating effects on the perception of the civil services as a viable career option for Pakistan’s best and brightest young people, civil servants tend to be tremendously resourceful individuals. Indeed, at the individual level, it is usually hard to find really mediocre people occupying really important civil-service positions. And perhaps that’s just the problem. A Darwinian process of elimination pushes the best people to the top, or it flushes the best people right out of the system. Out of the system, trained civil servants end up serving the narrow interests of whichever donor is willing to pay them the most money. Within the system, the best civil servants spend 20 hours a day serving the strange and sometimes sordid needs of political masters who don’t deserve to sit at the same table as some of their officers, to say nothing of ordering them around. By the time a capable, gold-plated, honest civil servant gets to a position where he can make a real difference, fatigue, cynicism and the competition for good officers between provinces, departments, ministries and the donors conspire to render them useful only in the narrow realm of administrative efficiency.

As bad as Pakistan’s bureaucracy has behaved over the years, the irony is that it is the last line of defence for this country. If the terrorists are able to demoralise, demonise and destabilise the civil service backbone of this country, there will be little but the courage of ordinary citizens standing in the way of the Taliban. While the Taliban will be devastated at discovering just how much the Pakistani people possess of that elusive thing we call courage, we should expect more of our political leaders and their leveraging of civil servants.

President Asif Ali Zardari has once again fallen for his advisers’ flights of fancy, proposing an 80,000-strong national force to counter terrorism. This is a divergent tactic that must stop. Pakistan doesn’t need new structures. It needs the strengthening of structures that exist. There are, after all, capable and honest officers out there, from Azam Suleman Khan, to Tariq Khosa, to Suleman Ghani, to Fazalur Rehman, to Kaleem Imam. It is unbelievable that there aren’t more of the same kind of civil servants out there. There are. Politicians need to stop playing games and start finding and investing in these officers. Time is running out.

The writer is an independent political economist

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 (The News)



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