Nexus of bureaucrats, politicians worsening economic woes

"When the governance system of the country tolerates corruption and allows a nexus between corrupt bureaucrats and corrupt politicians, the service delivery disappears from the system, and people suffer"

Government officers, before the partition in 1947, enjoyed powers and immunity from petty issues to serve the Raj. Moreover, they had honesty, diligence and integrity as government officials. From 1927 till partition in 1947, only two ICS officers were charge-sheeted by the British – one was former deputy commissioner of Amritsar EP Moon accused of a relationship with a woman, and the other was A.M.Khan Leghari, who had some financial issues.

Some of the ICS officers, who did a great deal to serve the subcontinent, include Mortimer Durand, who had drawn a famous boundary line between Afghanistan and present-day Pakistan in 1893. It is a 2,670 km long physical boundary, benefiting Pakistan today due to the occupation of mountain peaks. He included most of the highest peaks, including K2 in India (today’s Pakistan), except one in Afghanistan.

Pandit Nehru had termed the ICS officers “the greatest of the services in the world.” At the time of partition, the subcontinent had 101 Muslim ICS officers. Out of the total, 95 opted for Pakistan, while the remaining six preferred to serve in India.

It may be added here that famed Aftab Ghulam Nabi Kazi, Riyazuddin Ahmed and Agha Shahi were amongst the famous ICS officers who opted for Pakistan. Agha Hilali was a brother of maverick Shahi. Hilali served as high commissioner to India in 1960. He also served as foreign secretary and foreign minister of Pakistan. Both brothers were civil servants of the first rank with apt dedication and acumen.

The ICS officers were so expert in administration, judicial, revenue, and conflict resolution that even the higher courts used to hire them as judges. At least four ICS officers had also served as chief justices of Pakistan. It was a time when 50 percent of judges of the high courts were taken from the ICS officers. Mohammed Shahabuddin, A. R. Cornelius, S.A. Rahman and Anwar ul Haq were among them.

In the 70s and onward Ghulam Ishaq Khan, a bureaucrat turned politician and lastly president of Pakistan, also was a success story. The critics may disapprove of his political endeavours, but his financial integrity was exemplary.

These officers could not be removed from service even by the viceroy or governor-general. They were only answerable to the secretary of the state based in England.

Sir Evans Jenkins, the then governor of Punjab, had once said, “You want us to leave India. We would leave soon but one thing you must remember is that you would not be able to maintain those vaulting standards of fairness, honesty, efficaciousness and diligence in an administration that we maintain because of the conspicuous role of the ICS and other services despite difficulties of governing and numerous odds faced by us. Time would come when many of you would remember us with tears in your eyes and nobody to console you.”

Today, many Pakistanis who claim to be patriotic think that it is a ripe time to complete the due process of freedom, which started in August 1947 and still was incomplete. They think that the only need is to be sincere with the system and the state. All the important sectors of society – including politicians, bureaucrats, farmers, industrialists, social workers, economists, and teachers – must be sincere in what they are doing.

It is the first time Pakistanis have mobilised their energies to do something after independence. There is a severe need for nation-building. The status-quo forces are strong and well connected. The other thing equally important and needed is institution-building and bureaucratic reforms. For both purposes, there is no need for excessive funds since ages are being drained out on these sectors without harvesting any ripe crop as there is no planning. All the state functions are being executed on a day-to-day basis or are politically motivated moves. When the bureaucracy is involved in corrupt practices, when they are highly incentivised, when transfers and postings are executed as a carrot and stick policy, there is no concept of surveillance, there is bribe money. When judicial convictions on corruption charges are rare, senior officers always get clean chit while juniors become scapegoats. When there is no fear of losing jobs then the need for social mobilisation becomes multiplied.

Asghar Ali, a lawyer, said that civil servants should be loyal to the system and the state; rather than the ruling political families. He questioned why Ahad Cheema was posted out of turn as secretary. He proposed that the Civil Services Academy should teach Fawad Hassan Fawad and Ahad Khan Cheema as case studies of notoriety and corruption to the newly inducted officers. The officers should serve the people and focus their energies to resolve issues and facilitate those who approach their offices for remedies. He said that when officers become more loyal to the political personalities their conduct is deemed as unbecoming of an officer. He said that our bureaucracy is not designed to serve people but rule over them.

A former federal secretary of Establishment Division, on the condition of anonymity, said that both Cheema and Fawad were brilliant officers, but they were misused and politicised. They had to go behind bars losing their integrity. He also said that usually, political governments manipulate the top establishments to support their intentions. The nexus between some officers and bureaucrats, he said, caused an immeasurable loss to not only the prime service but also led to the current economic turmoil.

Moreover, administrative, moral and financial integrity is not needed as a matter of practice to move to the highest echelons of service. The only thing needed is officers’ connections. Lobbies within the bureaucrats, personal lobbying in addition to political backing have become keys to promotions. The current promotions to grade 22 by the high-powered selection board speak volumes of the alleged manipulations.

When the governance system of the country tolerates corruption and allows a nexus between corrupt bureaucrats and corrupt politicians, the service delivery disappears from the system, and people suffer. Both pick the public pockets. Financial integrity turns into a mega crime of money laundering as no one is held morally reprehensible. The new officers should be taught to follow in the footsteps of the famous ICS and CSP officers who earned their names without staining their character. Otherwise, more arrangements like ‘vetting’ for promotions would be their fate.

Javed Iqbal is a special correspondent covering the Punjab government with a particular focus on bureaucracy. He has unearthed a number of mega scams while working with leading media houses. He tweets @javedjahangiri and can be reached at