Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

Revival of Commissionerate System.. Daily Times 16 July

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OVER A COFFEE: Long live the British Raj —Dr Haider Shah

Change management programmes often do not succeed in the first go. Old habits die hard. A lot of de-learning and re-learning has to take place before any change starts bearing the desired results

The commissionerate system has been restored and according to some media reports, workers of the PPP distributed sweets over this restoration. This development in particular, and the way our political parties deal with major reform initiatives in Pakistan in general, reminds me of the curse of Sisyphus. According to Greek mythology, as a punishment from the gods for his trickery, King Sisyphus was made to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. He would do it with great enthusiasm but before he could reach the top of the hill, the rock would always roll back down, forcing him to begin all over again. Like Sisyphus, our public policy making is also cursed with the maddening punishment of moving in circles. After speedy reincarnation of the corpse of the commissionerate system his Excellency, Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq, jubilantly declared that this system would usher in a wave of prosperity in Sindh. Perhaps only Pir sahib can tell us how much prosperity was achieved when the system was in force with all its pomp and glory for more than 50 years since the creation of Pakistan.

The authors of Freedom at Midnight state that the essence of the Victorian era was frequently enunciated by Rudyard Kipling who contended that white Englishmen were uniquely fitted to rule “lesser breeds without the law” and that “the responsibility for governing India had been placed by the inscrutable decree of providence upon the shoulders of the British race”. The authors remark that ultimately this responsibility was exercised by a “little band of brothers, 2,000 members of the Indian Civil Service, the ICS”. Pakistan inherited the legacy, which despite the reforms of Bhutto in 1973, was kept alive by the band of brothers reorganised as the District Management Group (DMG).

In their hatred for the district level devolution system, the politicians of Sindh are not alone. Ever since the new political order emerged after the elections in 2008, many conspirators became active in plotting the murder of a system that was still in its infancy. The new child was seen as a threat to the thrones of two power centres — the traditional constituency-based politicians and the DMG band of brothers. Both happily connived to drive a dagger into the heart of the defenceless contender.

There are three oft-repeated defence pleas offered by the conspirators of the murder plot. First, the district government system was introduced by a dictator. A lame excuse! After all, none of the elected governments ever considered ending the monopoly of PTV. The same dictator awarded licences to private channels with the hope that the action would improve his credentials. Does it mean that all private channels should be shut down and the glorious age of PTV restored? Similarly, the computerised database of personal records through NADRA was also launched by the same dictator. Should the government then not go back to the pre-NADRA glorious age?

The second defence plea of corruption is also a damp squib. On many occasions in the past, federal governments were overthrown by dictators on charges of corruption. If derailing of the democratic system at the Centre is unjustifiable on such grounds, why should a democratic system at the local level be uprooted on the same charges? Corruption is a national problem and needs to be countered at all levels with strict vigilance and an accountability system. So far no such resolve has been noticed in the mode of governance adopted by the present government.

The third plea is that the law and order situation would be improved with the commissionerate system. If the officers belonging to the DMG had some magical wand, the situation in FATA would have been exemplary. The law and order situation is the outcome of many socio-political determinants. When those determinants were out of control, no officer could prevent the imposition of martial law in Lahore in 1953 and the partition of the country in 1971. In the absence of good governance, social justice and rule of law, a vacuum is created that gives rise to militancy and anarchy.

So then what is the real motive of the murder? Simple! Loss of prestige on the part of the ‘band of brothers’ and loss of control over monetary resources on the part of the MPAs and MNAs. Reportedly, the reconstruction of destroyed schools in the Malakand division got delayed by a year as the MPAs, MNAs and Communication and Works Department were at loggerheads over their control and share of the funds provided by various donor agencies for the said purpose. If the local government system is operational, the share of the pie gets even smaller. Like a roaring lion, the politicians do not want any rival predator anywhere near the kill.

Change management programmes often do not succeed in the first go. Old habits die hard. A lot of de-learning and re-learning has to take place before any change starts bearing the desired results. The devolution system of 2001 had replaced the commissionerate system with elected officials-based government at the local level. Like any hastily designed system, it had many structural flaws and needed many fixes over a number of years. A governance system is not like a money plant that you can buy off the shelf. It needs to be allowed organic growth with some regular gardening care.

Interestingly, Benazir Bhutto had advocated devolution of power to the lowest level in her New Social Contract Programme. Similarly, Bacha Khan had relentlessly struggled against the British rule in India. Pakistani politics are showing signs of degeneration instead of evolution as the political scions of both Benazir and Bacha Khan should today take pride in resurrecting the buried legacy of the British Raj. The US Church establishment has unsuccessfully tried to use intelligent design theory to counter the Darwinian theory of evolution. Perhaps it is best advised to use Pakistan as a solid proof against any evolutionary theory as, like Sisyphus, Pakistan is still sweating with the punishment of playing with the boulder of the legacy of the British Raj.

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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