Alamgir Khan, the founder and leader of the ‘Fix It’ movement of Karachi, stood on the largest choked rainwater drain of the city, warning the people of the looming disaster now that the monsoon season has started. Waseem Akhtar, the sitting mayor of the metropolis claims that his request for money has been gathering dust on the desk of the Chief Minister (CM). Syed Murad Ali Shah, the Stanford-educated CM of Sindh has repeatedly blamed the federal government for not releasing the promised funds. I am surprised at the helplessness of the MQM mayor, the party that once collected money for their boss in London to live in style. No one ever dared to refuse them. Now that the lives of several thousands of residents of the area is at stake, Waseem Sahib is looking at the CM who in turn is looking at the Prime Minister (PM) for direction. The people of Karachi have always responded with open coffers when appealed to for national causes. Seth Abid was a resident of the city when he bailed out the government of Zia-ul-Haq to keep it afloat. Why have private funds not been raised for a noble cause to clean up the mess of mini Pakistan?

In 1971, myself and two friends ventured to visit Chitral. Reaching Dir was not a problem but then we had to walk past Lowari Top, the highest point in the journey (10,000 ft). Trucks did operate on both ends of the pass but very few crossed it. In winters, the entire area is snowed under and the land route to Chitral is disrupted, only the connection through Afghanistan is operative. After a day’s struggle, we reached the top and decided to spend the night at the roadside hotel. While my partners were tired and wanted to call off the trip, on my insistence, they agreed to continue but, on the condition, that we will hitchhike on trucks for the rest of the journey. Despite being tired, I could not sleep, the bed bugs kept sucking my blood all night. Seeing my condition, the group had another meeting to review the way forward. It was agreed that we will wait and take the first ride that came in whichever direction (Dir or Chitral). A Land Rover of the Tarbela Joint Venture arrived almost empty which was heading back to the dam site. We boarded it with a heavy heart and the journey was abandoned. But my desire to visit Chitral lived on. In 2004 as Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, I went back on the invitation of the Agha Khan Rural Support Programme.

In September 1975, the elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) started to build the much-needed 10.4-kilometre-long tunnel. The ‘people’s government’ led from the front. Instead of requests, directives were issued which had to be followed unless there were sound reasons not to. The bureaucracy could not hide behind files and paperwork. Unfortunately, after the removal of ZAB, work stopped on the tunnel. The governments that followed could only put in requests like the Mayor of Karachi. In 2004, when I crossed Lowari Top after a lapse of 33 years (1971 to 2004) 8.5 kilometres of the tunnel had been built, only 2 remained. After the meeting, I asked the participants who were influential in the city; ‘Why is the tunnel still incomplete after a passage of over three decades?’

In Pakistan there is always the standard reply/excuse, ‘Shortage of funds’. If Imran Khan can build a cancer hospital by raising billions, why can’t we raise $2 million to complete the tunnel, was my question. The next morning, we met to discuss the project. It was agreed that we would announce the creation of an NGO (Lowari Tunnel Alliance) to raise funds for the completion of the tunnel during the 2005 gathering of the Shandur Polo Festival in which the President was expected to come. The sitting MNA who was close to the General, promised to convey the information to him, enabling the government to take appropriate action. While we were all set to announce the launch of the alliance, the President announced restart of work for the completion of the tunnel. Unfortunately for Chitral, Pervez Musharraf had to resign in 2008, the project fell on hard times again. Finally, with the completion of the project in 2019, Chirtal is now connected to the rest of the country for almost 12 months of the year. While others were at the mercy of the bureaucrats, ZAB issued clear directives to start the construction of the tunnel.

The Prime Minister (PM) talks about the mafias in all government departments. Chain of command no longer exists, the most senior officers are either captive of these mafias, or work only in self-interest. When I took charge of the Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) in August 2002, the first challenge I had to face was the Grade 19 Deputy Secretary Administration who had been in this position for over almost two decades; in fact, he was the de-facto Chairman. Nothing could happen in the foundation without his blessing. He had networked with all the important people in Islamabad. In the very first encounter, he tried to defy the selection of two young scientists on merit by not despatching their call letters. On inquiry, I confronted him, I knew with him controlling the files, the Grade 22 Chairman was helpless, and could only put in requests, so I decided to move him to another position out of the mainstream. It was one of the toughest decisions I had to face—I got telephone calls from all important offices of the state including the PM Secretariat, showing the displeasure of their bosses. I am not sure whether the senior officers were aware of these calls or not but I remained unmoved. This one directive was enough to send shivers across the board. As Chairman, I started calling the shots instead of a junior non-technical member of the administration.

The failure of governance is in fact a shortcoming of bureaucracy as they do not perform their duties. The Sharifs had created a ‘darbar’ of loyal civil servants who were kept happy to get their compliance in return. Unfortunately, the ‘darbaris’ are not performing under the new elected leadership and have to be sorted out. The agencies should be asked to submit a list of Sharif loyalists. After due scrutiny, at least ten of them should be moved out of the mainstream and posted as OSDs. It will send a clear message that ‘darbars’ are no longer operative. Elected governments ensure that people are served and their genuine grievances are addressed through well-formulated SOPs. Even the Viceroys of India were accountable to the elected British Parliament, whereas the Viceroys of Pakistan have operated like omnipotent royals—this has to end. A transformation from ‘darbari’ to ‘sarkari’ has to take place.

The city of Karachi needs help on an emergency basis. Instead of requesting the ineffective provincial government, the Mayor should request the federal government for immediate relief. Under the constitution, an emergency can be declared. For a massive clean-up operation thirty days should suffice. FWO can be deputed to work in collaboration with the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) with instructions to clear all the rainwater drains of the city together with the removal of accumulated trash. The entire effort can be funded directly by Islamabad, bypassing the Chief Minister’s office. Requests have not worked, directives followed by action are required to provide relief to the suffering people of the city. It seems everyone is interested in the funds, but no one is focused on delivery. After ZAB, Imran Khan is a popularly elected leader of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan who is determined to deliver. Two years of requests should now be followed by three years of well thought out directives to get the job done. Authority not used is perhaps more damaging then its misuse for personal interests as has been happening in the last four decades (1977 to 2017) in the land of the pure, seriously denting its purity.