Volume 21 Issue 9 September 2017


Why have none of the elected prime ministers in Pakistan failed to complete their respective tenures? The answer is very simple; they never ruled the country and it was the bureaucracy that actually ran the day to day affairs of the government. In fact, they are still the masterminds behind all the important decisions taken by the government. The inability of the elected heads of government to take independent decisions based on the consensus of the elected assembly and complete dependence on the bureaucrats left them with no option but to remain in power as long as they (the bureaucrats) wanted them to see them in power. Every prime minister, soon after assuming power, looked for a bureaucrat of his choice for appointment as his secretary or Principal Staff Officer (PSO) and after briefing him about his requirements and expectations, he would just sign on the dotted line on each file sent to him by the PSO. The only exception was however, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, though his right-hand man J.A. Rahim was a bureaucrat. A close study of the unceremonious exit of the elected prime ministers reveals that there has always been a public servant and not the public behind their removal.

For instance, who was behind the unceremonious exit of Nawaz Sharif? Obviously his Secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad, a career civil servant who continued to serve despite reservations from ministers and parliamentarians, including his son-in-law Capt. Safdar. Ignoring the advice of Fawad, had he accepted the TOR submitted by the opposition, the Panama case would have been settled in Parliament instead of going to the court. According to a report published in Dawn, a case against Fawad’s alleged corruption is pending before the Islamabad High Court (IHC.) It alleges that Fawad and his brother secured a commercial plot in Rawalpindi’s Saddar area as part of an exchange with Gul Zareen – on the basis of certain promises and without any cash payment of the total amount. The two are alleged to have exchanged a residential plot on Haider Road, Rawalpindi for this commercial plot, opposite the General Post Office (GPO). Apart from the construction of a commercial plaza, the petition also leveled several other allegations; the gift of a large plot in Okara, shares in the New City Project in Taxila and the Lahore Motorway City project, etc. His involvement in the famous JS and Sprint Energy scandal regarding CNG stations may also be probed, the petition says. Nawaz Sharif was so dependent on him that despite all the allegations and complaints from the parliamentarians he could not afford to remove him. Another person who may have been responsible for the unceremonious exit of Nawaz Sharif (now famous for his question – Mujhe Kiyun Nikala?) – was his own daughter, Maryam Safdar. She did not have any political experience but she continued to give advice to her dad who took it – meekly.

Let’s study the role of the bureaucracy in Pakistan in more detail. After the creation of Pakistan, the imminent and eminent problems faced by the emerging nation, it has been stated by many scholars, forced its leadership to look towards the bureaucracy for the consolidation of the state institutions. This, of course, reinforced their already dominant position. The civil servants had a pronounced penchant for keeping the elected representatives under their thumb. The civil servants of those days, mostly trained at British institutions, could not provide an intelligent blueprint for the professed and often proclaimed egalitarianism of an Islamic state. The bulk of the leadership left the daily routine of running the country to the civil servants and spent their time and power in self-projection and making money, ignoring public interest. Naturally, they failed to deliver and, as a result, were ousted.

The armed forces, the most organised and respected institution of the country, was silently observing the activities of the civilian governments of course with full support and help from the civil servants, then considered to be the only educated, intelligent, refined and ‘master of all’ class, but when the frequent change of prime ministers started adversely affecting the country’s progress, Army chief Gen. Ayub Khan became convinced that in order to make Pakistan a sound, solid and cohesive nation, a new political system would have to be brought in. The system would have to be home-grown plant and not imported. It would have to suit the genius of the people. As such, he decided to take over the reins of the government. He said that the object of military rule was to return the country to sanity. He blamed the politicians who were playing in the hands of bureaucrats for the mess. While enforcing military rule, he said, “Ever since the death of Quaid-i-Azam and Liaquat Ali Khan, politicians started a free for all type of fighting in which no holds were barred. There has been no limit to the depth of their baseness, chicanery, deceit and degradation. In this mad rush for power and acquisition, the country and the people could go to the dogs as far as they were concerned.”

Once the politicians were temporarily removed from the scene and the armed forces firmly entrenched in the saddle of power, Pakistan returned to sanity. But then, as we now know, absolute power corrupts absolutely and nothing is sweeter and addictive than power and as someone said, “The unlucky soul this demon possesses, if he is not sacrificed on its altar, will sacrifice others to get it.” Ayub Khan not only abrogated the 1956 Constitution but up came with a new one to get himself elected as president directly through basic democrats --- his own brand of democracy. He was very much under the influence of Altaf Gauhar, a career bureaucrat. He played a very significant role in the making of Ayub Khan, the politician and there is a general belief that his book ‘Friends not Masters’ had also been written by him. Deriving confidence from the support of this civil servant, he challenged the will of the people and contested against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, the Founder’s sister. Though he won the presidential elections with the support of the district commissioners, he failed to control the people’s uprising and finally passed on the baton to Gen. Yahya Khan. Since Yahya was not interested in power politics and was happy with wine and women, he conducted the fairest (so far) general elections in the country.

Without going into further detail and sticking to the subject, let’s begin with the most powerful prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a charismatic leader who knew the art of winning the people’s heart. He was probably the only prime minister known for dictating to the bureaucrats instead of taking dictation from them. His reign can be termed as an era of social change; private industries were nationalized, private schools were taken over by the government, and generic names were given to medicines so far sold under brand names.

A summit of Muslim heads of state and government were organized in Lahore, liquor was banned, night clubs were closed and a number of decisions were taken which gained support for Bhutto from the rightwing Islamic organizations. Bhutto was sitting easy in 1976 as petrodollars began to pour in and he had quietened the opposition from the left as well as the right. Feeling confident, he announced elections almost a year before they were due to secure an absolute majority in the National Assembly so that he could rule with ease and aplomb. He sought intelligence report which said that it would be difficult to get 75 per cent of PPP candidates elected. He decided to take the district commissioners in confidence and they rigged elections. In this some bureaucrats and even PPP politicians crossed all limits.

The PNA cried foul, boycotted the provincial election and decided to start a protest movement. Bhutto called in the army and imposed long curfews but even this failed to stem the protests. Soon after Gen. Ziaul Haq, the army chief, took over and imposed martial law. Bhutto was arrested and tried under charges of having given orders for a political murder. Again, it was the bureaucracy that was behind the rigged elections, which led to Bhutto’s hanging, with the military being in the forefront. There is no denying the fact that those who were considered to be very close to Bhutto and were instrumental in the formation of the PPP included two retired bureaucrats - J.A. Rahim and Aziz Ahmad.

As long as prime ministers continue to depend on the bureaucracy, they will never be able to complete their terms. The only way out is that the political parties start grooming leaders and not mere workers. This country needs a statesman who can represent the people with proper decorum, respect and knowledge of what's happening in the world. Henry Kissinger rightly said, “The statesman's duty is to bridge the gap between his nation's experience and his vision.”

Pakistan needs leaders who are more educated, more experienced and more qualified than the bureaucrats so that they can guide them and give them the right orders. Mediocre leaders will always be easily overpowered by the intelligent civil servants.


The writer is a veteran journalist and a member of the staff.
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