There is a saying in Punjabi “Naukri ki Tay Nakhra Ki” (In employment there can be no fuss). This is a typical Punjabi approach that calls for subservience. Survival is paramount for which spine is compromised. Every afternoon at the Pakistan Science Foundation when I read through the files I was amazed at the checks and balances in the system. The paper work had to be thorough, it went through financial audit and legal reviews before the final approval. One day I asked my assistant how can foul play take place in this tight system? The reply was straight, that when they all join hands, anything is possible. This joining of hands takes place when there is lack of spine or there is commonality of interests. Rules and regulations are seldom followed.

Public servants are under oath to operate within the constitutional framework, but usually they do not. Out of turn promotions, perks and prized appointments are irresistible. Islamabad is a city of grades, net working and lobbying which operates without soul and spirit. People in positions of privilege want to survive not deliver. It is a perfect example of ‘you rub my back I will rub yours’. Sychophancy prevails over performance. Very few individuals succeed in completing their term of office and go home with their prestige and integrity intact. Even heads of state are not spared. Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq, Pervez Musharraf, Farooq Leghari, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Rafiq Tarrar had a rough ext.

What is the reason behind this spinelessness? There are no simple answers. Bureaucrats who are party to every crime as they prepare the paper work and move the files blame it on lack of job security. According to them over the years their autonomy has been seriously encroached taking away their space and spine. A few years back I was invited to deliver a lecture at the Civil Services Academy. The commandant posed a question to me; “In our society the performance of the professionals is equally bad why do you only write against us?” I gave a straight answer, the one who holds the pen controls everything.

In a world driven by technology, only change is permanent. However our bureaucrats are not trained to manage it. At best, they can maintain the status-quo. They exist in insecurities of all kinds mainly because of the changed real world around them. All decisions are taken on the files as such they have the final laugh when reforms are blocked. Bureaucracy in Pakistan is at least a century behind and needs a major overhaul to be effective in delivering services to the common man.

Spine comes with the ability to earn an honest living. While subservient individuals look for employment, entrepreneurs seek opportunities. The ability to provide and support a decent living is the deciding factor. In the nineties I was involved in a Non-formal Basic Education (NFBE) Programme in which home schools were to be developed. There was no budget for brickor mortar in the project. The bureaucrats insisted on creating ‘bureaus’ to manage these centres and create their interest. In the absence of which they were lost. It was an effective programme under which close to eight thousand schools were launched with local community participation instead of bureaucratic red tape.

As a nation we have been in the survival mode, far too long. All civilian institutions have collapsed under the pressure of vested self interests. Only the Khakis have shown spine to keep themselves intact. Cost of dissent has been raised to an unbearable level. Confrontation is misunderstood and punished. While I meet a lot of dejected individuals at home I have yet to meet a failed countryman abroad mainly because of our failed systems and institutions. Today a son of a Pakistani immigrant to UK has been elected the first Muslim Mayor of London. In the fifties the Sears Tower in Chicago which was once the tallest building in the world was designed by an expatriate Civil Engineer from Pakistan.

Performance requires spine otherwise it is more of the same. Karwai (Acting) Culture cannot deliver results, it proves to be the beginning of the end. Public servants are required to perform in best public interests otherwise they can be held accountable. In Iran after the revolution in 1979 all Shah loyalists were sent to the gallows for crimes against the people. Their defence that they were obeying orders was rejected. In the words of Imam Khomeni, ‘A public servant is bound to obey only lawful orders’.

The Constitution and rule of law play an important role, as they regulate the conduct of the rulers and protect the rights of the ruled. That is why our 1973 unanimous constitution remains under constant attack from the rulers who have no desire to serve. Service to the people should be the deciding factor for the Baboos, Qazis, Siasis and Khakis, serving their seniors for personal gains has to be made punishable otherwise it is a perfect recipe for revolution and bloodshed.