“The civil service is the back-bone of the State. Governments are formed. Governments are defeated; Prime Ministers come and go; Ministers come and go; but you stay on, and therefore, there is a very great responsibility placed on your shoulders.”

–Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah

The urge to reorganise or revamp the establishment is not new. Whereas it may be expeditious to reform the entire architecture and organisation of the civil services of Pakistan, nothing would bring a major change if we don’t address the core problem, revamping the spirit of the civil service of Pakistan.

Although it may appear monotonous, highlighting the spirit behind the creation of the Central Superior Services (CSS) of Pakistan may give us some insight into revamping the backbone of the state of Pakistan.

In a historical review of the civil services of British India by Dewey highlights the efficiency of the cadre in these words, “In their heyday, Indian Civil Service officers, mostly run by Englishmen with a few notable sons of Hindus and even fewer Muslims were the most powerful officials in the Empire, if not the world. A tiny cadre, a little over a thousand strong, ruled more than 300 million Indians. Each Civilian had an average 300,000 subjects, and each Civilian penetrated every corner of his subjects’ lives, because the Indian Civil Service directed all the activities of the Anglo-Indian state.”

The counter argument may be that the British Raj had a very different governing ethos, especially in relation to the challenges of governing colonies; however, the fact that the Indian Civil Service officer cadre of 1000 not only ran British India in good order but also developed (from scratch) its major systems including revenue, irrigation, communication, postal, railways, police, highways, finance etc should make us ponder as to why the same inherited system could not deliver in Pakistan.

The British civil services system was based on five major pillars throughout the colonies, and not limited to India. One: Meritocracy in selection, promotion and postings. Two: Directive control, where the mandate or decree by the Crown only provided the policy and general guidelines, civil servants had the power to take initiatives to achieve the policy within given time and resources. No doubt, as a consequence, some of cities in British colonies and even borders were named after civil servants (including military officers) like Durand, Campbell, Layall, Abbot, Sandeman, McMahon etc. Three: An inbuilt system of reforms and evolution, where the civil services adopted to changing environment. Four: Lack of fear, pride and high moral values; the civil services were a trust where privilege was only earned after you had proved your mettle. Since the crown’s interest was supreme, the civil servants were demi gods who worked without political interference and with a pride in their functioning. This created a sense of high morals and produced a bureaucracy which was highly efficient and uncorrupted. Five: Creativity; if we look at the physical infrastructure built by the British Raj and the creation of systems of civil services as mentioned earlier, one thing strikes the mind, creativity. A small example is the Railway system of the Subcontinent; the British civil service was able to take the railways to every nook and corner of India. Pakistan has not been able to add many miles in this system so far, rather some of the railway lines have become redundant in the Balochistan and Bahawalpur Divisions.

The Pakistan civil service has had its pluses and minuses, whereas that industrial boom in the sixties, the creation of communication infrastructure in the last two decades and adoption of governance systems in the information age is a product of efforts and organisational strength of the civil service, the apparent stagnation and inefficiency is the net result of our polity and social changes taking place in society.

The Pakistan Army is also part of the civil services and has grown and survived in the same system, no wonder it is one of the most sought out forces in the world, especially in UN Peace Support Operations, training of allies across the Middle East and Africa and as a model force for fighting fourth generation warfare. Although the Pakistan Army cannot be equated with other armies, as it remained part of the political power play and held the reins of power in Pakistan for more than three decades, its efficiency and organisational strength is a product of a very robust system run by the Military Secretary (MS) branch in grooming of the officer cadre, from a cadet to a four star.

Five factors which governed the British Civil Service and have been mentioned earlier, also govern the working of MS branch. A major addition is Pakistani nationalism, which is ingrained in the minds of all ranks right from recruitment up to one’s grave; that’s one major reason this Army has survived the fourth generation war and continues to be the most sought out force in the region.

Recently, the Panama case highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of our civil services. Where the system was criticised for its inability to sustain pressures, the JIT displayed that given the protection within Pakistani law and initiative, it could perform without fear or inhibition.

While revamping the civil services may be prudent, there is a need to revive the spirit of the civil services of Pakistan through a regimen of meritocracy, directive control, initiative, moral values and reformation to meet the challenges of the 21st century, encouraging creativity and indoctrination of nationalism. There is also a need to make it compatible with the dictates of information age and giving it sails and spurs to ride the information highway.

Pakistan’s cadre of civil services still forms the backbone of governance; from the tehsil up to the Constitution Avenue, it has been subjected to different experiments aimed at taming it rather than serious reforms; time has come to let it flourish as the real backbone of Pakistan. Is our political leadership ready to let it happen?