What led to Imran Abbasi’s death?

"An officer blamed unsympathetic media and criminal justice system, undue political pressure, intolerable peer pressure and the courts' humiliating attitude towards officers"

It was a shocking case for me as I knew him for years. He was an educated, honest, visibly religious and highly responsible officer.

He was a provincial management service officer who recently joined the Pakistan Administrative Service, a superior service, through a competitive process. He claimed to have many friends though none were his true friends. He often remained tongue-tied, isolated and ultimately parted ways with his friends and family members, including his young children. He is no more with us.

Why did Imran Raza Abbasi, a PAS grade 19 officer, do this extreme step? Why exactly a member of the superior service is led to a suicidal frame of mind is never likely to be disclosed in all its fascinating complexity.

Society and investigating agencies would never bother to dig out the reasons behind it because his game is over as he had no lobby to pursue his case.

Usually, young people join the services with high ideals, but with the passage of time, this transforms into cynicism that, in some cases, may lead to suicide.

An officer who also faces frustration said there are multiple reasons for this hidden pandemic. First, there is unsympathetic media and criminal justice system, undue political pressure, intolerable peer pressure and the courts’ humiliating attitude towards officers. Above all, the state has since long surrendered to protect its officers. In fact, it succumbs to statesmen and their pet political cronies.

The officers view themselves as heroes as they had dreamt of while sitting in the competitive examinations. When they find themselves in a state of helplessness, they either surrender to the cruel system or commit suicide.

Dr. Usama was of the view that there are multiple other reasons as well. Officers continuously exposed to miseries they observe every day generate thoughts of suicide, he said. In the given scenario the officers feel alone, shelterless and confused, he added.

There is no such thing as a counseling programme where such officers could open their hearts and do catharsis. Talking about mental health is a taboo in this conservative society. If one talks, he is called mad. Officers holding important positions also face these circumstances.

Former federal secretary of power division and CMIT chairman Irfan Ali, while talking to Minute Mirror, said “I found him to be one of the best officers to work with me. His integrity was as clean as pure milk. He was intelligent and supportive of my efforts in several inquiries, especially the inquiry on excise and taxation. He was highly religious and a practicing Muslim. The act of suicide doesn’t conform to his character and belief.”

Mahmood Javed Bhatti, who was Faisalabad Commissioner when Abbasi was regional director of anti-corruption there, said that the deceased officer was a wonderful person, a dutiful and honest officer. He said that when an officer gets hired, he is medically checked and undergoes psychological tests. But later, throughout his service there was no mechanism to conduct a psychological checkup of the serving officers. He said that when he was political agent in Dera Ghazi Khan he conducted some raids. He fought against criminal gangs, but the state machinery did not come forward to support him. “It was such a sad experience of my service,” he added.

There was a similar case of former deputy commissioner of Gujranwala Sohail Tippu, also a wonderful person, who had reportedly committed suicide because he could not bear the bickering between his modern wife and poor parents. After Tippu’s sudden demise, it surfaced that he was denied leave on medical grounds.

This is a dilemma that the righteous demands of even the superior service officers aren’t entertained timely. Why did the higher authorities – including the then secretary services and the chief secretary – disapprove of that application of a DC seeking leave on severe medical grounds?

What possible countermeasures may be taken to avoid the rising instances of this action among bureaucrats?

Abbasi held a meeting with the commissioner of Lahore division the day he committed the extreme step. There is also news in his peer group that he was denied to join the Lahore commissioner’s office, which the spokesperson denied.

A batch mate of Abbasi told this correspondent on the condition of anonymity that he had conducted major inquiries while he was posted in the Anti-Corruption Establishment Faisalabad against front men of leading political figures.

A retired Pakistan Audit and Account Service officer Jamal Abdul Nasir said that officers should be allowed to work without pressure according to their conscience. Moreover, in their annual medical checkups they must be examined by a psychologist as well, he added.

During investigation, it also transpired that after he joined the PAS, he was posted in Islamabad and later transferred to Lahore. He was not given posting while his batch mate was posted as secretary in grade 19. He was living in a small flat while his juniors had availed the opportunity to get allotments of bigger houses. Despite his outstanding career, he was never posted as a DC because he had no lobby or political backing. Even after induction in a top group, he was not warmly welcomed by the DMG lobby as he had often complained.

There are also assumptions that the officer didn’t commit suicide; he was killed and hanged. However, police declared the incident as a suicide like it had done in Tippu case.

I have not seen a wave of grief that strikes the officers after such shocking incidents of suicide. The officers I talked to just said that the reason behind this extreme step might be a family problem. That’s it. Some criticised the declining service structure.

Neither there is any mechanism of transfers and postings of officers nor tenure protection. Officers having lobbies or political backing get lucrative positions while others are left to bear the brunt of the circumstances. The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Anita Turab case could never be implemented.

The officers should first of all realise that psychological problems exist. They should join heads to sort out reasons behind these extreme steps some officers had to take; otherwise, it would be too late. If CSPs don’t sit together today, they may have to face harsh circumstances tomorrow.

The system needs a complete overhaul. There should be civil service reforms to restore glory to the superior service. Political interference needs to be discouraged. The superior courts should implement Anita Turab case verdict in letter and spirit. Lastly, there must be stress management refresher courses to deal with in-service acute pressure, depressing working environment, and organisational conspiracies.

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 javediqbal344@gmail.com.