There goes a story that Nazis admitted new entrants to their club only after making them pass through a hard test. The young recruits were given puppies and after passing of a certain time when they were able to develop mutual bonds of affection, the recruits were asked to strangle the animal creatures to death. If somebody had a second thought before carrying out the command, he would be disqualified. Unflinching faith and unwavering loyalty towards the leader were the virtues required of Hitler’s followers. To think over the order of Fuhrer was regarded a sin in Nazi ‘republic’. Muhammad Ali Nekokara – a police officer – who conscientiously refused to use force against participants of PTI, has violated the code of ‘conformism’, which is considered the highest virtue in circles of civil service.

Both Pakistan and India inherited the bureaucratic structure as legacy of the colonial rulers and tinkered with the system after independence according to their needs. The unconditional obedience, expected of civil servants, is reflected in the diary of Harsh Mander, a ‘rebel’ IAS Officer, who was once summoned by the Chief Secretary and told, “ If the government tells you to throw poor people into the ocean, you have only two choices. You either comply by tossing them into the ocean. Or you quit. But you are adamant saying that you refuse to obey and throw the people into the ocean and at the same time you refuse to quit. This is simply not acceptable.”

During the long march for restoration of judiciary in 2009, Nawaz Sharif urged the law enforcement personnel to disobey orders of the government of the day to block the GT Road with containers and today his government is going to dismiss Nekokara, a conscientious objector. On the former occasion, Mr. Sharif had gone to the extent of embracing a police official, who, as symbol of defiance, unbuckled his duty belt wrapped around the waist, in a PML-N public meeting near Gujranwala. This issue raises a very significant question: should the civil servants blindly follow the orders of superiors or do they have the right to object to unlawful commands?

The civil service, referred to as the backbone of administrative machinery, is responsible for implementation of the policies of political executive authorities on the ground. A civil servant is obliged to protect and uphold law and constitution under all circumstances. Governments come and go but civil servants are part of the permanent establishment running the affairs of state. If civil servants are obligated to take directions from the incumbent political governments, irrespective of their legality, the outcome is what prevails today in Pakistan – the ‘steal frame’ of bureaucracy has rusted. There are examples of individual officers doing their job unfailingly but exception always proves the rule to the contrary. A civil servant has a moral and legal duty to resist illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional directives of the government.

The skeptics argue that given this unbridled right to every officer, the task of administration will be rendered impossible. But this is not a valid argument as any officer shall not be vested with the right to decide on the legality of government orders according to personal opinion and prejudices. Instead only if an executive decree is in violation of recognized legal principles and constitutional values enshrined in the sacred document, then the right to resistance can be legitimately invoked. In the United States of America, the civil servants have the right to bring a lawsuit to declare a government command unlawful. In 2013, when the Senate rejected the Obama’s immigration bill, the Secretary Homeland Security introduced a ‘Deferral Program’ to allow certain illegal aliens to apply for three-year postponement of their deportation. This program went against the United States Code, which directed immigration officials to deport every illegal alien. The immigration officials challenged the deferral program and the judge held “the officers were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Department of Homeland Security has implemented a program contrary to congressional mandate.” The lawsuit was dismissed on separate technical grounds.

In Pakistan too, the Supreme Court held in Anita Turab case that the compliance of illegal orders of superiors is not justified on the basis of having been issued from the higher authority, as it is the law and the constitution, which must be obeyed. The Court further held that illegal orders couldn’t be defended on the plea that they could expose the concerned government servant to the risk of disciplinary action. Therefore, Nekokara undoubtedly upheld his oath of protecting the constitution by raising a conscientious objection.

The developments over the last week have bolstered Nekokara’s stance, as the government and the PTI have agreed to form a judicial commission to probe the allegations of electoral rigging in 2013. It was non-acceptance of this demand that originally led Imran Khan to march to the capital. When the government has accepted that the demand of PTI was legitimate, it has lost any moral ground – if it ever had any – to proceed against Nekokara.