The bald headed gentleman, with grey sideburns and a face to which crinkles had started making inroads, was fuming. “Do I deserve all this? I have given prime period of my life to Public Service. I served for more than three decades honestly and selflessly. On my retirement, the government allots me a plot in the capital city on which I cannot raise a house during at least next ten years… or maybe more but who will survive by that time? And who cares?”
“Your problem is genuine” I intervened. “You are not the only one facing this--- but then, what is the solution?”
“Solution is simple” he says. “Hand over this task to Pakistan Army and I assure you that every civil servant will be able to start constructing his house on the next day of his retirement, if not earlier.”
Burst out by this tormented retired public servant reminds one of readers’ letters which keep on appearing in national dailies impressing on the Government to assign the civil housing schemes to Defence.
That more than half of our national history stands blemished by Military despots should, in no way, attribute the evil act to the Armed Forces as an institution. If commanders did not revolt against the usurper chiefs as they used to do in Turkish and Mughal eras, it has been a blessing in disguise . The nations whose Forces stand divided and split themselves for and against the coups, have been envied neither by their contemporaries nor by history. Intermittent but long military rule over the land in no way proves that the Forces, as a whole, affirmed it.
Pakistan Armed Forces ,as institution, in fact are lagging behind no other country’s Force. Their organizational structure and system of monitoring and accountability can be peered only by the corporate sector of developed countries. On the contrary, Civil Government’s performance has been in shambles. Take for examples Army Housing Scheme. It was conceived and launched in early eighties. The objective was to provide a house of appropriate level compatible with the contribution made during his service, to every Army officer at the time of his retirement. Since then the criterion which was laid down at the time of inception, has never undergone any change. Every member of the scheme, without running from pillar to post, is handed over the key of the house at the time of retirement. On the contrary, the scheme to shelter the civil servants , initiated in 1988, has only added insult to injury. Whenever a new phase was launched (four till now) the criterion underwent a “custom made” modification. I can vividly recall when the first phase of Housing Foundation (of Federal Government) was set off in 1988. Mr. Saleem Bahadur Khan, a direct descendent of Hafiz Rahmat Khan Roheela, was working as Financial Adviser of Pakistan Air Force, a part of Ministry of Finance. He was a man of traditions. Many big shots of the then Air Force learnt bridge from him. When he applied for the house in the First Phase, the Federal Ministry of Housing “informed” him that since he was already in ownership of a house, his application could not be entertained. Saleem Bahadur Khan, being a pure Roheela, had a commendable sense of humour. He wrote back to the Ministry to let him know the whereabouts of “his” new found house so that he could, without any delay, occupy it! The mystery was solved later on when it transpired that the honourable Minister, whosoever was at that time, wanted to shower the bounty on someone else whom the criterion could not accommodate.
Why does the fuming Civil Servant want that the matter of his welfare be handled by the Army? There is only one reason for this. The Armed Forces, as institution, are the most organized in the country. Punctuality, meeting the target within the fixed time period, responding back and, above all, taking effective and tangible measures towards welfare of officers and other ranks – these are some of the ingredients our Armed Forces possess and unfortunately the civil set up lacks completely. Just compare the number of Director Generals of Army Housing Directorate with the number of secretaries who have been in charge of Ministry of Housing and Works during last twenty or twenty five years and you will come to know the magnitude of “seriousness” with which the Federal Government has been managing its affairs. A compilation of the data scattered on the wooden boards hanging on the walls of Civil Servants’ offices will make an interesting study. A substantial part of the national exchequer has been ‘consumed’ on the grandiloquent and boastful courses of HRM and personnel administration held in Harvard and other prestigious institutions but these wooden boards make a mockery of all this tax payers’ money. These boards testify “tenures” of few months and in many cases few weeks! Civil Servants, with varying might and connections, have been using “less attractive” slots as stepping stones and transit lounges. The ill-connected are the wretched ones. Those who are without posting are advised blatantly by establishment Division, to look for some “sponsor”. Postings abroad have been even greater mockeries. Find out the record of past twenty or thirty years. Who have been the privileged ones to get stationed at promised lands? Mostly deputy Commissioners of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi ! why? For obvious reasons! They have to be at the air port many times a day. And if you are lucky to be elevated as Principle Secretary to the Prime Minister, you are blessed with Aladdin ‘s lamp. Look at just the recent history. What are the present whereabouts of the previous principal secretaries? World Bank Washington, Asian Bank Manila, Ombudsman and lucerative Authorities like NEPRA making whoopee for five years period after superannuating at the age of sixty and who bothers whether you are technically and professionally qualified for these jobs which are essentially meant for technocrats!
Let us be honest and agree that such audacious lawlessness has not made surreptitious inroad in Armed Forces set up---at least so far . Yes. They do offer jobs to their retired senior officers but they follow a method in madness. They offer vacant slots of their subsidiary organizations, like foundations, to all retired Generals, Air Marshalls and Admirals who either take it or leave it. Not like what is happening elsewhere ! “More equal” grade 22 (and even grade 21 ) are being sent to lucrative slots of Federal Public service commission and Federal Services Tribunal and “less equal” are kicked on their asses with such heavy thuds that they fall in the premises of the houses which even do not belong to them! Multiply this favoritism with hundred and you get what is happening in the provinces!
The inability, so far, of political elements to make inroads into Armed Forces’ internal decision making process is a great blessing for the country in general and Defence in particular. There cannot be two opinions about the anarchy prevailing in administration of civil service and in non Defence Sector on the whole. Unjustified promotions and indefensible supersessions have been plaguing the system since long just because of whims of myopic political leadership. Even a faithful and docile minister like late Yaseen Wattoo had to lodge a written protest to the then prime minister when an officer repeatedly disqualified for promotion by the (legally authorized) Promotion Board was elevated by “King’s” order. As the press had reported in those days, twenty eight out of thirty newly ‘recruited’ officials for FIA belonged to a particular ethnic group. Sheer personal likings and dislikings of politicians in appointing and sacking chief secretaries of provinces is another mockery, which has been going on since long. Even Arab Sheikhs do not change their wives with this rapidity. GHQ’s Military Secretary Branch is working many times more systematically, rationally and objectively than the poor Establishment Division, which practically is reduced to a “keep” of the powerful Principal Secretaries and is acting like a post office, a bit superior to the normal ones. Add to this misery, the hyper “flexibility” of almost every secretary Establishment Division which he has to show in order to ‘win’ a post-retirement lucrative assignment!
The Human Resource Management System of Pakistan Armed Forces, the key factor behind the enviable transparency is detested by Americans as well as indians. The best way to tamper with this transparency is to make it susceptible to political impulses of the ruling class. It is intriguing that the Kerry Lugar Bill opens this door. The Bill says, “An assessment of the extent to which the Government of Pakistan exercises effective civilian control of the military will be carried out regularly”. Promotions of the senior military officers too have been proposed to be brought under the civilian control.
Of course there are intrusions on the part of Armed Forces. The service-chiefs must ensure that their former two and three star buddies do not gatecrash civil departments to get hold of jobs lest the entire Defense set up is loathed. The recent appointment of a retired General as chairman Punjab Public Service Commission is a case in point. Even if some sycophant insisted, the gentleman, in all fairness, should have declined. Was he the only person who deserved this? Same is the case of the erstwhile Staff College which, for last many years, is being viceroyed by a general, who got this empire in the reign of the Commando President and still continues.
The total militarization of Ministries of Defence and Defence Production is another haughtiness, which is a classic case of anachronism as well as of total annexation of two important Federal Ministries to Armed Forces. Perpetuation of a retired three star General as Secretary Defence with three uniformed additional secretaries, one from each of the three forces, is a permanent symbol of mightiness. Compare it with the next door India. A set up with a civil servant Secretary Defence assisted by only one additional secretary who too is a civil servant speaks volumes as how strong are the institutions in that country. Indian Ministry of Defence does have three senior officers representing their respective forces but they are designated as “technical managers” and hold inconspicuous positions in the over all setup. Comparison between Defence Production Ministries portrays the same picture.
The coolheaded General Ashfaq Kiani has gone a long way to restore the blotted image of the uniform but a lot more deserves to be carried through. However the real question is :will the civil service continue to walk with a slow dragging motion without lifting its feet ??