If you want to judge the Punjabi dominance in Pakistan, the armed forces may not be the best indicator as is generally assumed. It’s the top civil bureaucracy through which Punjab dominates this country.
For the starters, the per capita Pashtun representation in the top military hierarchy exceeds that of Punjabis. In other spheres, the population edge of the Punjabi legislatures in the National Assembly is partially balanced by equal number of members from each province in the Senate. Media and the judiciary may not be the exclusive Punjabi clubs. Even a cursory look at the Club-22 of bureaucrats will tell you that it’s a Punjabi monopoly.
Out of the 58 civil officers heading 44 divisions and the President and Prime Minister’s secretariats, there are just six Pashtuns, five sindhis, three of them Muhajirs and just two Baloch, one of them again a Punjabi settler. In Balochistan’s case, the trend is not likely to change as not a single Baloch based in Federal Secretariat is in Grade 21, just one in Grade 20 and then no one even in Grade 19. No question of a Christian, Hindu, Sikh or an Ahmadi coming 5000 yards close to this exclusively Muslim Club—Alhamdulillah.
The list includes Grade-22 officers on contract and the acting heads in Grade 21. This in the so-called Sindh dominated PPP government. Imagine when the overly clannish Lahori Kashmiris takes over. It will be reduced to a re-do of Takht Lahore—Seraiki province be damned.
This comes to about 80 percent Punjabi representation. The affirmative action in the shape of quotas allotted to smaller provinces and less developed areas as Azad Kashmir in the competitive selection examinations gets whittled down as the officials go up in promotions. The Punjabi brethren ensure that the ‘martial race’ remains dominant.
Another trend that keeps the top official structure lopsided is the sectional monopoly of the DMG Group now called as Pakistan Administrative Service (PAC). Of the 37 regular Grade-22 officers based in Islamabad, there are just two from the Customs, one from the Foreign Service (the Foreign Secretary) and the one from Information service stands retired. The three Office Management Group (OMG) members in Grade-22 exist because of an anomaly. The OMG, which remains one of the least-opted services in the competitive examinations, remained suspended for ten years and hence got ‘unusual promotions.’ A ruling from the Federal Service Tribunal, incidentally given by one officer from the OMG, helped making it mandatory for the other cadres to get the seniority from the time that they will join the Secretariat Group.
The DMG/PAC cadres guard the turf watchfully. The Supreme Court asked the government to make some minimum basis for the promotions. This was after 54 officers in Grade 22 were promoted in one go. The ‘rule-framers’ dominated by the GMG/FAS made it mandatory for a minimum of two years service in Grade 21 and a three years service (plus six months training) in Grade 20 for a move-over. This suits the DMG/PAC because they ensure that the promotions in other groups remain slower. This will make the structure even more lopsided in the coming years as only the DMG/PAC officers will fulfill the requirement.
The recent summary by the Establishment Division to remove the condition of three years for the Grade 20 officers, now deferred by the Prime Minister for one year, was an attempt to correct the growing imbalance. But the mighty DMG/PAS, backed by the misunderstood media criticism, stalled what may have been a right step.
The primary concern should be to skim the best cream out of the existing government machinery. Amidst this fight over sectional interests, the war over the cadres and turf, the biggest casualty is the quality of officers that come out of it.
Of course, the DMG/PAC babus are right that being the most superior service they should be given some precedence. But to the extent that this structure has become lopsided in their favour is maddening if not callous.
Officers improve and deteriorate in accordance with their exposure, hard work and circumstances in life. The whole government machinery cannot be held hostage to one examination (on average 35 years ago) in the beginning. No mid-level re-evaluation exists. The results of the two senior management courses in Grade 20 and 21 only make a partial difference in promotions.
Former State Bank Governor Ishrat Hussain in a study on official reforms suggested that the cadres should be given another examination at Grade 19 to re-evaluate their capabilities and performance. Some countries borrow talent from private sector at mid-level. But we do it as one-off favour as was given to Dr Waqar Masood. Waqar remains the most hated person among the cadres because of his lateral entry by Benazir Bhutto straight in Grade 21 and later got promoted by Farooq Leghari in Grade 22 in 1997. This makes the longest serving Federal Secretary in the country’s history. Normally, if an officer gets to serve for five years in Grade 22 he or she is lucky. He stays at the top for the last 15 years with another four to go.
It may not be a bad idea to include members from the provincial services also. They may not be efficient in paperwork or less articulate in King’s English but they bring a treasure of local exposure. Now, how can Islamabad make any policy on Balochistan when it has only three officers in the top three grades from the province. The two in Grade 19 are here on deputation from the provincial service.
None of the recommendations was accepted. And as things stand today, there is little chance of this happening in near future also. Long live Takht-i-Lahore.