Upon creation of Pakistan, there existed a powerful legacy of bureaucracy but a weak political system. The political fibre had been made subservient to a bureaucratic network of state’s functioning. The main characteristics of bureaucratic style included; divide and rule, maintain elitism and keep the people oblivious of state’s affairs.

Soon after the creation of Pakistan, the much needed political strength and maturity was reversed due to the death of Quaid-e- Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This vacuum was filled in by the civil servants who were comparatively better trained to handle the state’s affairs under the British system. The readers need to keep in mind that political institutions are publicly accountable bodies. Bureaucratic setups are desk-bound and file-work centred institutions, not answerable to the people. Contrarily, the function of the bureaucracy is to serve the state of their own understanding using public means. This is their inherited design. So for one, society comes first since it is what makes up the state; for others, it is the state that gets preference as it houses society.

Since the political health of the state had progressively been undermined over a period of time, the debacle of 1971 gave it a legitimising strength. The country found a solution in the institutional development of democracy under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He had seen legitimised power centring in bureaucratic circles, especially since the late 1960s. So he found all the germs of the state’s illness in civil-military services institutions. The military bureaucracy was still in the shock of 1971; Mr Bhutto took complete powers over the state in his hands. He demonstrated it as well through the removal of some high ranking officials of the elite defence services. To him, the bureaucratic rule had let down the nation. The civil servants had ruined the socio-political fibre of society. He referred to this system as ‘Naukar Shahi’ and civil servants as ‘Brahmins. What he meant by this was ‘servants becoming the rulers and civil servants as the elite human beings like those in Hindu religion where common citizens are taken as untouchables.’

Therefore he set out to undertake major reforms in the civil bureaucracy of the country. Sending 1300 officials of civil services on compulsory retirement was his first step to break the myth of bureaucratic dominance in the state’s affairs. He was convinced that attaining political dominance would not be possible without having effective control over the most powerful bureaucracy. In order to attain this, he undertook three main initiatives. Firstly, he broke the prestige and myth of CSP (Civil Services of Pakistan) cadre of bureaucracy through the elimination of their reserve quota for vertical progression of promotions. Secondly, CSP was regrouped into categories like district management, tribal areas, and secretariat groups. Thirdly, other groups like audit and accounts, military accounts and railway accounts were merged into accounts groups. In order to make up deficiency with loyal bureaucracy, he horizontally inducted hundreds of civil servants. These were mostly close relatives of political stalwarts of Bhutto and his lieutenants. This proved to be a rapid step towards the politicisation of bureaucracy.

Unethical employment of bureaucracy was demonstrated before and after general elections of Bhutto Regimes (Urdu Daily, July 1976). Since civil servants were blessed by the ruling political party and they used to be transferred and at times removed by the powerful Bhutto, they accepted political dominance to secure their jobs. Where they lost on moral ground, their professionalism became meaningless; rather became rubber stamps in the hands of political absolutism. The insecurity of jobs under the constitutional amendments of Mr Bhutto’s regime made the civil bureaucracy totally docile and ineffective. This is the reason that the suppressed bureaucracy welcomed Mr Bhutto’s overthrow by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1977.

As happens in all dictatorial regimes, Zia-ul-Haq era was dominated by technocrats starting from public administration to foreign affairs. A legitimacy crisis compelled him to accept civil bureaucracy’s predominant role in running the state’s affairs. So they got their lost esteem back in ranks and positions. The addition was an influx of large numbers of armed forces officials colouring to civil bureaucracies.

The regime of Zia-ul-Haq had two distinct features as far as the state’s functioning and governance is concerned. One; the society was completely dissociated from the state’s affairs, may it be public administration, development issues or making the foreign policy of the country. Second; the civil bureaucracy which had lost its pride in the previous regime became (readily) predominantly subservient to military office bearers of the public services and governance.

The civilian governments which came after the death of Zia-ul-Haq had to restart the political process. The bureaucratised mechanism of the state’s functioning was earlier interrupted by Mr Z A Bhutto. Therefore the country started with a weak and slow political understanding in the late 1980s. Lately, in the 1990s, the democracy suffered an interruptive blow; therefore the bureaucracy had to readjust as per new developments. Musharraf’s military government looked over the shoulders of civil bureaucracy for legitimacy and continuing governance. This gave them a refreshing revival to reassert themselves for more and more say in the policy formulation and functioning of the state’s affairs. This regime gave a famous devolution plan of 2001, had varying impacts on bureaucracy. District coordinating officer of the civil bureaucracy became the linchpin of district governance. At the division level, it became almost nonfunctional.

Elections of 2008 gave a new dimension to Pakistan’s bureaucracy. The new political setup came into the system with a lot of funfairs, rejecting the unidirectional rule of the Musharraf regime at the same time. Over 300 laterally inducted officials were withdrawn from the city departments and sent to their parent setups. These departments slowly came back to the elected government, meaning by the civil bureaucracy under the control of politicians. As usual, the new political government of Pakistan People’s Party brought in their own team of bureaucrats at the national level as well as outside the country. Musharraf’s team was functionally taken out especially on key posts.

Finally, the elections of 2013 and 2018 brought in the new political government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf respectively. Accordingly, they brought in their own team of bureaucrats; those were marginalised by the previous regimes. Understanding the ground realities, the bureaucrats of rival political parties take back seats and wait for their own turn. This is how the bureaucracy has been politicised, marginalised and mixed up in a way that it has lost its identity, professional pride and respect. Over the decades, the system has been employed by various regimes, not for the benefit of the people or the country but to serve their own vested interests.

Having seen the shortfalls of Pakistan’s bureaucracy through a historical perspective, it is now prudent to suggest a model which is free from all the ills as discussed in the preceding discussion. The requirement entails talking about a model which is people friendly with services delivery focus and designed to work as a mechanism. It should work as a system which is not personality oriented and focused on top notches. Even if the key appointment holder from the top is removed for some time, the system should keep running on routine matters. Its shortfall shall only be in developmental domains. At the same time, the system should not be technology aversive, rather flexible to absorb emerging realities of benefits which technical developments provide to humanity. That is possible only when responsible individuals are developed and kept aligned with the technological advancements as is the case of successful entrepreneurship. The bureaucracy should also be made part of the common ownership and accountable to the state system. These two attributes warrant certain obligations as well as privileges for the system to become effective. This shall fill the gap in the present system where political mechanism becomes answerable to the shortfalls of bureaucracy.

The writer reports for Fox News Digital and also a freelance columnist. He is currently pursuing an LLM at UC Berkeley and can be reached at mohsin.saleemullah@berkeley.edu