Interview on 10th Oct, 2009
Khalid Aziz is a former civil servant who has spent more than 30 years in various departments under the federal and provincial governments. He headed the NWFP Planning, Environment & Development Department for six years and played a major role in transforming the province. He also remained the NWFP chief secretary. After the government service, he started his own development consultancy firm in 2003. He writes extensively on the region. There has been a debate regarding the role of civil bureaucracy in nation building. Some say it has failed, while others claim it was not allowed to do the job. Which side is telling the truth? Khalid Aziz also takes part in this debate during an exclusive interview with Daily Times at his residence.
Iqbal Khattak: Last month, a Peshawar High Court judge made an observation that bureaucracy is not solving people’s problems. Has this observation surprised you?
Khalid Aziz: The bureaucracy will perform according to the rules of conduct, its mandate and capacity. The bureaucracy also reflects, in its working, the national system of governance. You cannot expect a Pakistani bureaucrat to think in terms of another country’s context. When a bureaucrat exercises his discretionary powers something which he is legally entitled to exercise he must ensure that he operates within the fundamental principles of justice, equity and fair play. Any civil service will be a conservative institution which abhors taking risks and favours stability. However, since 1947 bureaucracy played a leading role in modernising the new state and to make it a self-sustaining entity, despite external threats and internal unrest. This was the era that produced the PIA, the Planning Commission, the State Bank and huge agriculture related infrastructure such as the Tarbella and Mangla Dams that added about 40 percent new irrigated land to the total. This was not done by the civil servants alone, but also included the engineers who too can be considered as the technical civil servants. These were no mean achievements. The developing world from S Korea to Singapore and Malaysia came to learn from the Pakistan success story. However, the decline began when the Civil Services Law was amended in 1973 and the civil services became an appendage of politics. Later, the military began to experiment with the civil services too; the 2002 Local Government Ordinance destroyed the structure and put into place a system that has led to the rampant increase of militancy on the one hand and lack of coordination on the other. The civil capacity to react to calamities and dealing with emergencies through improvisations in real terms was destroyed; now for every calamity the provincial government is dependent on the military. This has led to the creation of large areas of institutional conflict of interests. For instance, the local bodies that should have concentrated on service delivery based on community needs, became small political machines challenging the provincial government. Instead of dealing with problems, the new institutions began empire building. The magistrates were pulled out and the coordination between law and order at the field level was truncated. The military, whose principal objective was to deal with security issues, was involved in reading meters or checking absentee school teachers or supervising reconstruction work after the earthquake. There was thus a mixing of functions, mandates and services. This is one of the reasons that allowed the militants to dominate space because that space was left unoccupied. The end result has been chaos.
Thus, the national institutional edifice that was built with so much hard work with years of effort has almost disappeared. Today, we have reached a degree of imbalance that is chaotic. If political interference in the civil services continues unabated, I am afraid we will not have the capacity even to deliver ordinary services to the people. Would we then wish to hire foreign companies to provide us with drinking water for example? If there is continued interference in the functioning of the bureaucracy, very soon its efficiency will reach rock bottom.
Bureaucratic performance needs to be measured through establishing performance indicators rather than using posts as sinecures for favourites who are placed in position of authority to direct resources to their benefactors or their hanger ons.
IK: You underlined political interference as a baseline for the loss of initiative and deterioration in delivery service by the bureaucracy. Who let the politicians interfere in the working of bureaucracy or, do you think, politicians took the initiative themselves?
KA: This is an interesting question. In my opinion, there is a symbiotic relationship where both try to derive benefits; the bureaucrat derives service and maybe lucrative benefits while the politician derives political benefits in ensuring his win in the next election. However, since the 1980s, there has been a shift in this attitude with a lucrative side attached to approving financially huge projects. In my view, there is no politician whose success can be attributed to politics alone. In today’s world, running the affairs of a province or, of the federation is extremely complex. It is the bureaucrat’s job to keep ahead in this complicated arena.
If you ask me who drives whom, I would say in the beginning it is the bureaucrat who leads the politician, but as time passes, the politician learns and begins to dominate. It doesn’t have to be that way. Both should cooperate to further their mandates, which is to improve the lives of the people. I would add that at present this relationship would fall in the realm of political economy where both the players increase influence and derive benefits by manipulating the domain of rules and regulations.
IK: Who benefited from this relationship?
KA: As, I have said earlier the benefits were normally derived by both. But, I would add that there are both professional civil servants and honest politicians, but they are very few in number. There are a few civil servants who remain aloof, don’t participate in this game and instead go by the rules. Many politicians get upset with this type. The politician is driven by the logic of pleasing his electors and those who bank roll their campaigns. Fighting an election in Pakistan is a very expensive proposition and unless you have millions of rupees, the chances for success are limited. The politician’s horizon is limited by the looming election and, in the recent past, they are also afraid that their tenure will be curtailed by another Martial Law. The politician feels cynical whether doing good work for the people really means anything since their work does not matter at all in the long term, as politics is repeatedly superseded by military intervention.
IK: You said the bureaucracy leads the way. Earlier, you spoke of political interference. It means the bureaucracy is responsible for the present state of affairs?
KA: After the repeated interference and manipulation of the structure of the civil service, it has lost its moorings and civil servants spend more time in public relations to pull off a posting of their choice rather than focusing on their tasks or learning new skills. Thus, a very powerful institution for advancing social welfare and modernisation is compromised to the national disadvantage. It cripples the national development. We would have been so much better, had our institutions not decayed.
Another reason is the removal of protection under the law which a civil servant previously enjoyed. Previously, the laws of the civil service protected the bureaucracy, but, when the civil service was reformed in 1973 and subsequently the protection under the law was removed, the service no longer remained the protector of the public interest. Let us remember that a civil servant provides strategic advise at the apex level and as a junior officer he is implementing policy. An officer can only provide good strategic advise and service to all if he has no other goal then to protect the public interest and to enhance provision of benefits for the greatest number delivered in a neutral and non-partisan manner. The moment these principles are compromised, troubles of all sorts begin and public interest is harmed. Repeated abuse of public interest creates social unrest, which in the end, weakens the state.
IK: Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf once said about civil bureaucracy that it is neither on the side of the people nor on that of the government. Bureaucracy has become so strong that it cannot be made accountable?
KA: Musharraf is the last person who should be pontificating after usurping the rights of the people. Like any other dictator he used the structures of the state to prolong his personal rule and to benefit himself. It is not the bureaucracy that has become strong but other forces, which have created institutional imbalance. The speed of descent into chaos has been hastened by the manipulation of the rules of conduct appropriate for the management of the civil service. It has created a chaotic situation, which is neither good for the state nor for the bureaucracy as an institution.
IK: We all know how much Musharraf hated the bureaucracy. Do you think he brought in local government system to cut the bureaucracy to its size?
KA: I think you have to look at Musharraf’s psychology. He was not the brightest in his family. His elder brother Javed, who was my class fellow, was much brighter. When Musharraf staged the coup, his first step was to begin arresting the civil servants. He wanted to send two strategic messages through this action. Firstly, to scapegoat the civil service for all the ills that were visiting Pakistan and he used the media to press that message with the help of other conspiring psychopaths in his inner coterie that the ills of the country could be attributed to the civil service. Secondly, he wanted to create a tyrannical fear in the rest of the civil society that he was capable of bringing pain to anyone he wishes. This message was meant to elicit compliance with his wish. I believe he was, psychologically speaking, getting one back against his elder sibling through this action. I don’t think Musharraf had a balanced personality, may be better parenting could have saved Pakistan a lot of pain caused by his vindictive pettiness. Yes, one of the reasons for the introduction of the LG system was to cut the former CSP and later the DMG his elder brother’s service to size. By doing this and leaving the space open for others to step in paved the way for the easy spread of terrorism in FATA and later in NWFP. I can only pray to Allah to give us leaders who are balanced and humane and not psychologically damaged. Such leaders bring pain to the nation and their legacy is flawed history will not forgive those leaders who are violent and devoid of compassion. I think, on a different level, the case of the missing persons, which was the motive force behind the November 2007 imposition of emergency in the country and the subsequent mayhem could be attributed to such a psychological profile.
IK: Looking at the level of interference in bureaucracy as you say, is it possible for a bureaucrat to work according to his own ideas and initiatives without a politician’s support?
KA: It is very difficult these days. In the Frontier, the situation is not as bad as it is in other provinces where the feudal system is dominant. The politician in strong feudal areas is running a political system in which he not only controls the patwari and SHO, but also the DCO. Even secretary level appointments, in many cases, are made on his recommendation. Such a system is so strong that even a powerful chief minister cannot interfere. This is the case in our biggest province. Yes, on the face of it, the public may hold the bureaucrats responsible for their problems, yet on the ground, it is the feudal interests who have usurped the role of the state and who are the real cause for the pain and miseries of the poor. I am not giving a clean chit to the civil servant because he often becomes a partner with such feudal and business interests.
IK: Merit appears to have vanished in Pakistan. Your qualification for a post is judged by the level of your political affiliation and not by your ability. Is this true?
KA: This is right. Last month, there was a commotion about appointment of a DMG officer as ambassador to France. That civil servant was not senior enough to be appointed as ambassador in Paris. Secondly, it was a wrong move since the officer was from a different service. Thirdly, the decision was flawed because there are ample qualified and excellent officers in the foreign office who are more eligible. From this episode it becomes evident that it is not your skills or qualities as a civil servant that qualify you for getting a good posting, but your personal political connections and ability to generate wealth for some vested interests. This is not always the case, but, as the time passes, these criteria for posting become more the norm. In Pakistan, if your political links are strong, it will help you get good postings. Thus, a good officer who plays according to rules, tends to be considered a barrier to the personalisation of state by the powerful and hence fails to get promotion.
IK: How did the civil bureaucracy react to Musharraf�s hatred for the institution?
KA: The civil bureaucracy, in my opinion, has never taken a collective stand against anybody. The attempt to receive personal gains by its members trumps the larger service interest and values. The civil bureaucracy has always tried to get closer to military dictators and thus derive benefits by cooperating rather than resisting. If you look at the assets of those civil servants who sided with Musharraf, you will come to know how much they personally enriched themselves. If you are looking for ways to make money, it makes no difference in this game whether there is democracy or dictatorship in Pakistan. I think, the system of balances in the civil service has collapsed and nobody frankly told Musharraf that many of the things that he did were wrong or that they would lead to upheaval.
IK: We hear that civil bureaucracy has not helped the military against the terrorism. What is the truth?
KA: Look, first of all let’s not mix functions. The institution identified and qualified to use coercive force is either the military, the police or the civil armed forces. Fighting the insurgents is the task of the state’s coercive arm. The civil service helps in assisting in creation of a holistic strategy to deal with insurgency. To my knowledge, our national security framework has not been able to define such a strategy so far. If you don’t have a plan, how can you expect the civil bureaucracy to help you out? When a war starts, very little is left in the control of civilians. It is Pakistan’s misfortune that there is no strong civil-military link which is essential in fighting an insurgency of the type that we are witnessing today. When the military takes over an area, it looks at the civil bureaucracy with doubt. The civil servants, on the other hand, complain that the military is destroying their institutional framework by interfering in their area of activity. Thus, in the absence of good communications, the battle against the insurgents suffers. When government institutions do not exchange information, how can you expect good results in the present conflict. Success demands that the civilian and the military arms work as one team.
IK: Your rich experience about tribal areas is no secret. In the post-9/11 situation, why has there been no other option than a military operation in FATA?
KA: We are looking in retrospect. There are some principles of administration in the tribal areas. When you are using force in FATA you achieve some successes in the beginning, but that force is perceived as a kind of threat to tribal traditions and culture. The tribals do not like that this force comes and stays because then this force will be used to create inter-tribal imbalances. Frequently, someone who is close to a force commander in FATA will manipulate the use of force against his enemies. We did not evaluate the tribal dynamics before sending the military into FATA in 2002-03. If you introduce force, its consequences will always be negative. Therefore, if we had a political strategy, we would have achieved successes to a much greater extent. On the other hand, you need to use force when terrorist safe havens are created. That is why you need military, but it should always be used in support of political objectives and remain secondary to it.
IK: How best can we use tribal dynamics against international terrorism in the tribal areas?
KA: Tribal dynamics are now much weaker. The tribal system of balances has been fractured; the system is almost dead now. What are its driving agents? The main drivers of the insurgency are poverty and unemployment; with mass unemployment and the democratisation of violence, it is no longer possible to ignore the link of poverty with misgovernance. Poor governance in this sense leads to pent up grievances which force inhabitants to empower themselves with guns. The cell phone and the IT do the rest. At any one time, there are always people who for other ends are supportive of such fracturing of the state. These insurgent movements will continue as long as we do not break the cycle of poverty. So, in the end it is all about money. If we can manage to place money in the pockets of the poor, we would then begin to address this problem, which cannot be resolved through weapons. One of the best ways forward is to provide individual land ownership rights to tribesmen over collective lands. This will cause problems in the beginning, but then a money economy will begin to create capital. Once this happens, a demand will come for the provision of the rule of law and the freedoms provided in the constitution. That is the virtuous cycle of wealth and freedom that needs to be brought to FATA for modernisation. The recent extension of the Political Parties Act to FATA is one good move, but we need to focus on wealth creation for the inhabitants. FATA must be taken out of the Great Game design that it had been placed in since 1849.