(KellyB. / flickr)
One of the truly disheartening aspects of researching Pakistan's history is uncovering evidence that, at critical moments, the country's central bureaucracy provided its rulers of the day with rational and wise advice, only to be ignored.
In 1952, for example, G. Ahmed, Pakistan's Secretary of the Interior, urged Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin to restrain the members of his party from treating the state as their personal estate, abandon manipulating religious fundamentalists for short-term political gain, and focus on policymaking. Nazimuddin ignored Ahmed. In March 1953, sectarian rioting broke out in the Punjab as rival factions of the ruling party aligned themselves with religious fundamendalists. The governor general and the military took the opportunity to push Nazimuddin out establishing the bureaucracy and army's primacy over the elected government.
Similarly, in the early and mid-1980s, Syed Ijlal Haider Zaidi, Secretary Establishment (in charge of the administrative tasks of posting and transfers within the civilian bureaucracy) produced a series of prescient summaries for Zia-ul Haq, Pakistan's third military dictator. His writings dealt with the need to reform the civil service and rehabilitate the provincial administration. Zaidi proposed a number of feasible solutions, such as creating specialized civil service elites to administer education, health, and infrastructure; restoring supervisory functions to the field level; and strengthening the provincial governments. These all could have been implemented, given the relatively healthy finances of Pakistan at the time. Instead, Zia opted to do nothing.
In 2000, Zafar Iqbal Rathore, a retired police officer serving as chairman of Pakistan's Focal Group on Police Reform, advised the country's fourth military regime, this one headed by Pervez Musharraf, to set up neutral bodies to supervise the transfer, promotion, and disciplining of officers. This was meant to reduce arbitrariness within the state machinery, starting with the criminal justice system and eventually extending into other civilian sectors. His advice met with the same fate as earlier noteworthy attempts to advise the rulers.
Since then, the problems Ahmed, Zaidi, and Rathore identified have intensified. Now the state's ability to deal with any one of them, let alone the dysfuction that underlies all of them, is doubtful. Connecting all these men's prescriptions was the idea that the state needed to be less arbitrary and that its rulers needed to accept some institutional autonomy; each tier of government (federal, provincial, local) needed adequate independence to respond to specific needs. And that required an able, motivated, well-paid, law-abiding, and efficient civil service. These civil servants would be the frontline in the fight against the primordial pressures -- kinship, clan, tribe, sect, and so on -- that held the country back. They would work as agents of integration. This wise advice routinely fell on deaf ears because it ran counter to the perverse logic of Pakistan's indigenous culture of power.
Traditionally, states in South Asia were organized along three main principles. First, that the state was the personal estate of the ruler. Second, that managing the estate required the ruler to appoint loyal personal servants in the military, civil service, and religious establishments. Third, that the ruler was divinely sanctioned and could not be lawfully challenged.
In practice, this meant that South Asian rulers exercised arbitrary power over and through servants who were highly insecure and could be removed at whim. Since that could happen at any time, the rulers' servants were driven to plunder as much wealth as possible while they could. Kautilya, prime minister to the founder of the Mauryan dynasty (c. 320 BC) famously compared the emperor's servants to fish in the sea, deeming it impossible to determine how much water they were drinking. In the Mughal Empire, a few hundred senior military and civilian officials typically intercepted more than half of the total state revenues, amassing vast fortunes. They consumed as much of it as they could as quickly as they could, since the emperor's ability to withdraw his favor and confiscate their fortunes always loomed large.
Under the British Raj, which formally succeeded the Mughals in 1858, the colonial rulers tried to remake South Asia in their own image. They had high regard for institutions, the rule of law, meritocracy, and civilian supremacy over the military. They tried to instill those values in their subjects, and thus seeded South Asia with the basic cultural requirements for constitutional democracy. One example was the steady growth of local governments organized on the principle of self-taxation. Another was the drive to recruit civil servants from both England and India through competitive examinations.
Following independence in 1947, however, South Asia -- particularly Pakistan -- started reverting to earlier patterns. Indeed, due to the proportionately greater trauma of its birth and the fact that it was always on the frontier of the Raj, the British veneer wore off rather quickly.
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