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Political-bureaucratic conflict and economy

Pakistan has a serious problem on the conflict between two large groups that form part of management of the country – the politicians and the bureaucracy. One may be immune to what is going on so far as the general public is concerned. I have been in the midst of this controversy for over three decades. There have been excellent ministers and to name only three of them – General Majid Malik of the N group, Mohammad Yousaf Talpur of the PPP group and Dr Shafqat Jamote.

Each was different from the other and each had their own style of working but each of them contributed heavily to the development of agriculture so as to benefit the farmers and the rural areas. Whereas General Majid Malik came from Chakwal, Mohammad Yousaf Talpur from Umerkot and Dr Shafqat Jamote from Mirpurkhas (I think). The strengths that they gave to the agriculture system were much above average and it was always a pleasure to discuss issues with them. The three of them were also very trusting and above suspicion.

The other face of the bureaucracy is when they are thrown open to charges by various committees of the National Assembly. The numbers of standing committee meetings that I attended were proverbially high – they were of the Senate and of the National Assembly. One had to prepare for each of these diligently and to ensure that the facts were brought out. Much of the conflicts that emerged from these were based on prejudices. On one such occasion one of the enlightened members remarked ‘pity the day when the patwari retires and goes to his village.’ The reference was to the other members that had made my life miserable. On bore it with good cheer for one could not do anything about it. This political-bureaucrats conflict comes to a height with the change of political government. This is that moment. So instead of getting on with it they try and run the past down so that points are scored. The two persons one of whom I know was immune from this kind of thinking was Skipper Kardar who used his education at Oxford to good extent by suggesting to me that do not try and catch thieves in life but rather get on with your positive work. Do not waste time and energy on irrelevant things. My recent appointment with NAB was for Awareness and Prevention wing (A&P) – a proactive work at preventing misallocation of resources rather than to catch thieves. Catching thieves and cheats is impossible in this country. There will be people who will try and bust the system. In any case the previous experience of the cases has been that considerable energy and time have been spent and at the end of the day the said misdemeanours have not been proved.

But to come back to the interactions between the bureaucracy and the political system there is little doubt that an alternative has to be determined. This alternative is dependent on the imaginative aspect of the two groups and on the other relative objective of developing a country. The major cause of concern is unemployment and the political and bureaucratic divide is on the jobs that are to be provided. The political system is not patient and does not want to follow employment procedures laid down by the rules oriented bureaucracy and supplemented by the highest courts in the country. The Balochistan package is a case in point in which the sitting (before the elections) wanted to induct their own ‘people’ into jobs that were for research in agriculture. They were in hundreds in the Balochistan package – a package designed to take away the feelings of being left out of the development game. The incompetent that were selected, although if the selection would have been on merit the two development of Balochistan as well as exclusion from the development projects would have been amply satisfied. Instead we have had hundreds of people inducted in to agriculture research and these incompetent [people will remain for the better part of 40 years on the rolls of the government. Forty years of incompetence is difficult to digest. Balochistan which has 47 percent of the area of Pakistan deserved better than this. No one really understands the potential of the province and the positive aspect that it can play in the development of food security in this country. It has 12 rivers transgressing the land and who says that Balochistan is short of water. It is short only in Quetta where the urban development has played havoc with the fossil water.

Balochistan’s agriculture and mineral potential has never been tapped and this because of the pettiness of the policymakers in that area who were keen on short-term measures rather than long-term ones.

All the projects that were developed with the help of the Planning Commission under Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali went to the graveyard because of the stupidity of the agriculture-related bureaucrats. Why do I say this? The bureaucrat by definition has a better knowledge base and can advice the political system. That they do not do so is for two reasons. First, they do not want to fall foul of the political system and therefore would not like to state something that works against the personal likes and dislikes of the political system and second, they can give advice that is passive in nature and can then take the back seat not being involved in any way. Such advice is more like the ones that eunuchs are prone to give to some one who can act. Even the bureaucrat is subject to inadequacy of knowledge as this gets obsolete with time. I recall that while doing a PhD I enquired from my supervisor as to when a PhD becomes obsolete. His answer I would like to share. A PhD is about development of the mind and obsolescence can set in if that ability to exercise one’s mind is missing. That means that as a PhD one is not a subject specialist rather a person who can apply his mind to the problem at hand and solve the issues or take that process of future work in a conceptual base. This capability is not limited to PhD alone but can be exercised by people with a developed mind. Degrees do not matter. Ethics do matter. With the given knowledge of the political system and there are interesting exceptions to the rule the bureaucrat is better endowed in terms of knowledge. The result is that various kinds of ethical questions arise in the minds of the implementers of the policy. Are the politicians capable of giving a policy that takes care of the long terms actions? Sure they can. But then Pakistan is a pluralistic society in which the policies have to be flexible. One cannot have the same policy for Punjab and Balochistan or Sindh or KPK.

That is what should worry the federal government and those situated in Islamabad. The thought process is dependent on cognitive ability. Who has that cognitive ability? It won’t come automatically and we see time and again desire and deserving people suffering from this ailment. Soul than loyalty is more important than ability and merit? One wonders as to how politically-oriented people reward loyalty and in the Pakistani scene any benefit to any one is soon taken up as if they were the cat’s whiskers-the all knowing and all deserving.

Can there be an alternate to this ailment of bureaucracy? Weber, Elton Mayo, Merton and others have all given their inputs to this. But we go and take on the UNDP model in which the doers have been eliminated. But that would take us way out of the reach of this article and must therefore stay for the time-being. For the meantime rest with the preference for loyal versus merit. The merit oriented person will also have some guts and will stand up. Do we want to break his spine and make him spineless? Think about it.

Dr. Zafar Altaf, "Political-bureaucratic conflict and economy," Business recorder. 2013-07-06.
Keywords: Political science , Economics , National Assembly , Standing committee , Political-Bureaucrats , Planning commission , Political system , Pluralistic society , Politicians , Bureaucracy , Agriculture , Farmers , Senate , Supervisor , Mirpurkhas , Islamabad , Punjab , Balochistan , Sindh , KPK , UNDP , NAB