Pakistan's Briefcase Warriors

Letter From Islamabad

(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

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