By Kunwar Idris
IN the 2006 Charter of Democracy, Pakistan’s two major and moderate political parties jointly committed themselves to “an independent judiciary, a neutral civil service and rule of law and merit”. It is a remarkable commitment.
The snag is that it was made in London at a time when their leaders were on the run, desperately needing the protection of the law administered by neutral civil servants and adjudicated by independent judges. Their own record on all three counts during their alternating stints in power spanning the decade of the 1990s, to say the least, was dismal.
Forgetting their conduct when in government and trusting their declaration in exile, the people have voted them back into power. Now doubts of all kinds and despondency have set in. The Charter’s three objectives already appear to be beyond reach.
The movement for an independent judiciary has degenerated into a struggle for power. It had to for it became identified solely with the reinstatement of the judges that Pervez Musharraf had sacked, and whom he had appointed. The looming fear now is that in this tussle the judiciary instead of becoming more independent might lose whatever little independence it had.
The rule of law cannot prevail while its custodians in parliament and in the superior courts are embroiled in a do-or-die debate and the driving forces in the background are political and personal. It appears to be a long haul.
No difference of opinion has arisen, not openly at least, between the parties to the London Charter on their commitment to a neutral civil service based on merit. Nor does any legal complication attend upon it as it does with reference to the judiciary. Yet, there is no sign of either neutrality or merit gaining recognition after the elections. To the contrary, rumours and press reports seem to suggest that neutrality and merit, long in recession, have taken a deeper plunge.Here is an illustration, instructive and amusing. A pilot described by his colleagues as ‘dynamic and aggressive’ has been appointed chief of the national airline. The press report goes on to let the cat out of the bag, perhaps unwittingly, by adding that “besides his professional credentials Captain Haroon is well known for his friendship with the PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza”.
One does not know what would help the troubled airline more — the dynamism of Captain Haroon or his friendship with Asif Zardari. But the fact to note is that every appointment being notified now has to it a ring of kinship or favouritism that negates both neutrality and merit. Not that it was any different during past regimes. But the commitment of the parties to the London Charter finds no fulfillment in their actions either.
The aims of the Charter are neither new nor unusual. They just reiterate the founding but forgotten principle on which Pakistan’s civil service rests. In the few months given to him after independence, Mr Jinnah found time to address the civil servants twice — at Chittagong in March 1948 and a month later in Peshawar — to tell them that they ‘must not to fall victim to any pressure’ nor support any particular political party or leader. At the same time, he warned ‘the leaders and politicians’ not to interfere with the duties of the civil service.
Jinnah’s successors showed much less commitment to the neutrality of the civil servants but the first to assail it, and also to depart from the principle of competitive merit, was Ayub Khan. He arbitrarily removed a score of them whom he considered defiant or incompetent. Ten years later, Yahya Khan dismissed a much larger number — 303. But neither Yahya nor Ayub disturbed the structure of the civil service. In the course of time, both of them, in fact, came to rely heavily on the civil servants.
It was left to Z.A. Bhutto to abolish not only the service cadres but also the constitutional safeguards of the civil servants after dismissing 1,400 of them through a hastily compiled haphazard list which included many retired or dead. He imagined neutrality was a myth and bureaucracy itself a powerful vested interest. Disregarding the rule of entry through competitive merit, Bhutto inducted a large number of people from all walks of life in all services at all levels. They came to owe loyalty not to any cadre or institution but to him alone.
Prodded by the supporters of his coup and guided by his own prejudices, Gen Musharraf delivered the last and fatal blow to merit and neutrality both. He first struck at the heart of the country’s administrative cadre and then went on to place the civil servants under the direct control of the politicians through his devolution plan. In a state of baffled impotence, the civil servants — each for himself — were left to find a role in a confrontational political environment. The country thus came full circle — from Jinnah’s concept of total separation of the administration from politics to their complete merger.
Interestingly enough, when Pakistan’s latter-day leaders and soldiers abolished the civil service considering it to be a legacy of colonial rule, the thinking of the Indian leaders was in line with our far-sighted founding father. This is what Sardar Patel had then to tell his partymen who wished the services to be local and answerable to them: “You will not have a united India if you do not have a good all-India service which has the independence to speak out its mind and which has a sense of security.… [It] … is the sine qua non of sound administration under a democratic regime, even more than under authoritarian rule.”
Manmohan Singh had similar thoughts when he took over as prime minister. India has stayed united and democratic despite many insurgencies, 35 squabbling states (provinces) and a variety of races and religions. Pakistan has a painfully different story to tell only because it abandoned all the principles of the state policy enunciated by its founder.
Authoritarian regimes could make do without an independent and secure civil service. A fragile democratic order cannot. Bhutto erred fatally. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif too had to pay a heavy price in their turn. Now that their parties have come together they should bring back an administrative service that is secure and committed enough to sustain the new democratic venture. It is of greater importance than an independent judiciary.
Source: Daily dawn, 18/5/2008