Mess in the districts in Pakistan

Ayaz Amir

When Gen Musharraf and acolytes get into chorus mode about their achievements, at the top of the list figures that magic word ‘devolution’. Power, they ecstatically declare, has been transferred to the grassroots, heralding the outbreak of a ‘silent’ revolution across the country. As hype goes, this is not bad. Up to a point it is even persuasive because the chattering classes, training their binoculars on the national scene from their drawing rooms, are largely ignorant of conditions at the district, tehsil and thana levels.

Of the great issues of war and peace they can hold forth eloquently. Their passion dips when it comes to such subjects as public hea-lth, local schools, municipal services, district administration, or the comedy that goes by the name of justice.

Sure, the idea of devolution is not bad and was perhaps long overdue. But the devil is in the implementation. How has this great philosophy fared on this count? A revolution it may have triggered but not of the kind envisaged in Islamabad. Its most outstanding achievement is the creation of 102 mini-dictatorships in the 102 districts of the country. (With the creation of three more districts in Sindh, that number now comes to 105.)

Those who moan about parliamentary irrelevance in the Musharraf era have it all wrong. The system is designed this way with one strongman at the top of the pyramid and 102/105 mini-strongmen at the base, everyone else in between — parliament, prime minister, et al — irrelevant.

This is a presidential system twice over, once at the centre then again in the districts. Whatever the constitution might say, with Mus-harraf calling the shots, this is a presidential system in all but name. Certainly, more money has poured into the districts during the last four years than at any time in the past. But implementation has not matched available resources, with nazims free to misuse funds.

As if all this wasn’t eno-ugh, disturbing reports have come to light suggesting the government is contemplating changes in the Police Order 2002 which, in the name of reform and efficiency, would place the district police officers (DPOs) under the thumb of the nazims. The latest proposals signify a regression, aimed at eroding the last notions of police independence and returning the country to old-style politicisation. Maybe the police force had it coming for despite the Police Order 2002 there is nothing to suggest any improvement in its performance. If people were asked about their favourite villains, there is no doubt policemen, doctors, judges and perhaps journalists, would top the list.

The old civil service had it coming, for well before its axing at the hands of Gen Naqvi it had outlived its utility. The police had its own complexes. Chafing at the need to play second fiddle to the civil service, it resented its position of secondary importance. So when the civil service fell to military assault, the paladins of the police service cheered, thinking they had inherited the earth. This space should have been used to improve performance. Instead it was merely used to go on an ego trip. Reform or no reform, the police remain as corrupt, oppressive and unaccountable as ever.

Amir, a columnist for Dawn, writes for THT from Islamabad