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Compromise on merit has hurt us badly. I have had the chance of meeting several senior Defense Officers who rose to vital positions against merit. Fortunately, the Air Force had much better leaders like Air Marshals Asghar Khan and Nur Khan, while Ayub Khan and Musa Khan were disasters in the army and so were Zia and Musharraf. General Douglas Gracey the last gora C-n-C (Commander-in Chief) knew about the poor credentials of Ayub Khan (PA10). He should have gone home as a Major after the Burma war disaster.

The father of the nation had superseded him. There were nine able and brave officers above him who were bypassed by his appointment as the first desi C-n-C. Perhaps it was the biggest blunder committed by the first Prime Minister (PM). Zulfikar Ali Bhutto committed the same mistake which he later regretted. Nawaz Sharif (NS) has done it four times yet no lessons have been learnt.

When I met General Muhammad Sharif the senior most officer who was kicked up to the newly created appointment of Chairman Joint Staff Committee to make room for Zia, who was at the bottom of the list, to command the army, I was almost shocked. Officers like Zia should have retired as Major if merit had prevailed. Musharraf was no better either. He was flamboyant, trigger-happy and non-serious with no analytical skills.

Lt. General Atiq-ur-Rehman, a very competent and upright officer has quoted General Gracey in his autobiography about the fears of the outgoing Chief. “Through nepotism you will destroy all institutions’’ were the words of General Gracey. His prophecy has been proven to be correct.

Perhaps General Jehangir Karamat was the last COAS appointed on merit by President Farooq Leghari, who was then sent into premature retirement by Nawaz Sharif. General Waheed Kakar refused extension and gracefully went home while Generals Kiyani and Bajwa forced their extension in service. Both proved to be disastrous for the country and their mother institution. Those appointed against merit always cling to their position as they lack capability and confidence to survive without it.

General Sharif told me that as Chairman Joint Chief of Staff (CJSC) he called General Zia on July 05, 1977 after the military takeover and urged him to go back to the barracks as the step was un-constitutional. According to the CJSC, Zia promised to hold elections within ninety days and urged General Sharif to continue till then.

When the elections were not held as promised Gen. Sharif did not show up for work; rest is history as they say. Zia’s misrule continued for over eleven years and then he left behind his political heirs who only believe in personal loyalty. Recently, an Ex-DG FIA (Federal Investigation Agency) has joined PML-N as party President of Sindh even before completing the mandatory two years embargo.

Out-of-turn promotions of loyalists are another menace that has hurt most civilian institutions. Recently, a PML-N stalwart passed away, who was a police service officer pickedup by Abba Ji. He moved up the ranks defying both merit and experience on the job.

Finally, he landed as Inspector General (IG) of Police Sindh where he was instrumental in containing the political opponents. After retirement, he was elevated to the position of Senator. Another blue-eyed bureaucrat was picked up as DG LDA while he was still in a lower grade of service. He was brash and crude but served his promoters well; finally, he rose to the position of PSCM (Principal Secretary to Chief Minister), bypassing his senior and more able fellow officers.

In his quest to please the boss, he was rushing to the Lahore airport to receive him but on the way his speeding car overran a retired military officer. The CM tried to hush up the matter but the family of the officer refused. Finally, he was removed from the position.

The PSCM, who followed, was allegedly involved in the Model Town massacre of unarmed protesting followers of Dr Tahirul Qadri outside the Minhaj University. He was hurriedly sent to Geneva on a UN assignment from where he returned to occupy the coveted slot of PSPM (Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister) where he continued even after his superannuation and the exit of the PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) government.

Loyalty should be to the country and its institutions not individuals. Over the years only the armed forces remain intact as an institution as they continue to protect their institutional interests. Bureaucracy is totally compromised and subservient with police being the worst.

Judiciary has tried to bounce back after the Lawyers’ Movement of 2007 but there is still room for improvement. The legislature is the weakest link as they have no interest to serve the people who elect them. Raja Riaz was elected on PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) ticket from Faisalabad. He refused to resign along with his party men, and continued as leader of the opposition in the depleted assembly.

Finally, he sided with the government and joined them after the dissolution of the assembly. He will now contest from the platform of PML-N. The Chief Election Commissioner (ECP) is the first bureaucrat to hold this position after the enactment of the 1973 constitution which mandated appointment of judges of the superior judiciary only. After retiring as Secretary Railways he has been entrusted with the task of holding free and fair elections, which have not taken place since 1970.

What was the basis of this selection? According to the ex-PM, the outgoing COAS used his influence in this appointment. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed as railway minister also recommended him for this position. Considering the poor performance of the department it made no sense.

Holding a credible electoral contest is perhaps the biggest challenge faced by the country. In the current interim setup, which is required to be neutral, only the caretaker chief minister of Sindh stands out; others have faltered again raising doubts about their impartiality.

A test case to impose merit is to immediately fill all approved vacancies in government departments through credible selection panels. Positions are deliberately kept vacant to accommodate relatives. Blatant nepotism prevails with total disregard of institutional interests. The individuals who approve the selections have an important role to play.

Now the ex-PM is being blamed for the appointment of the CEC as he signed on the dotted line. Liaquat Ali Khan approved the appointment of Ayub Khan, Bhutto faltered in the case of Zia, Nawaz Sharif had to face the consequences in the selection of Musharraf and Bajwa who should have been denied extension.

Pakistan and its institutions must come first for which merit must prevail whatever be the consequences as in the long run ‘honesty/merit is the best policy’ which should never be compromised.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

Dr Farid A Malik

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation; email:[email protected]

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