Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) promoted Zia-ul-Haq against the principle of seniority and merit which proved to be disastrous for the country. Zia then imposed a political non-entity Mian Nawaz Sharif of Gawalmandi first as Chief Minister (CM) Punjab who was later propelled to the position of Prime Minister (PM) with no relevant qualifications, experience, or credentials. The Government College of the sixties brimmed with the best talent of the land.
But then there was a small group of students that had no interest in academics or bonafide extra-curricular activities. These students mostly hung around the fruit shop of Malik Sahib or the cafeteria located near the Bokhari Auditorium. Being a science student, I seldom had the chance to visit these places but whenever I did, I found Mian Sahib hanging around there. On inquiry, I came to know that he was admitted on a wrestling seat. His daily routine included a visit to the nearby ‘Wrestling Ring’ (Akhara) of the Bhulo Brothers where he himself wrestled. He was so much involved with this activity that he decided to marry that family of wrestlers.
When merit became history
After completing my Engineering Degree I proceeded abroad for higher education. On my return, I was surprised to find that Mian Sahib had managed to become the PM. I was briefed that he was the choice of Lt. Gen. Ghulam Jillani Khan and General Zia-ul-Haq. After retirement, Jillani Sahib became Chairman of the Doon School Society that was building the Chang Bagh School near his village outside Lahore. As a board member, I had the chance to meet him. I asked a few direct questions from him regarding the credentials of the sitting PM. “Can Mian Sahib write a paragraph in any language”? The answer was “No”.
“Can Mian Sahib read a page of written text and understand its contents”? The answer was “No”. “Can Mian Sahib speak extempore for one minute on any topic”? Again the answer was “No”. “So you selected a person to lead the country who could neither read nor write or speak”. His answer surprised me. “He carries people with him”. In other words “Muk Muka” (Wheeling-Dealing). It was this deadly approach that was let loose on the nation in 1985 which then gradually destroyed merit and ultimately led to the collapse of institutions. ‘No payment no service’ has become the norm in most departments. Merit has been relegated to history.
My father’s generation took enforcement of merit very seriously. As a generation, we had to live by strict discipline based on good conduct. Demand for gratification by officials was met with physical force. My father slapped several clerks and inspectors, at times I had to intervene to calm him down but he insisted that corruption must be crushed for the purity of the society. They firmly believed that the land of the pure must be kept pure. Admissions, employment, promotions were all merit-based. Recently my friend Majid Sheikh has written about the legendary Police Officer of Lahore L.R. Niblett who retired from the post of DIG.
Why merit is important?
In the year 1970 when I applied for my first driver’s license, he was posted as DSP Traffic. I walked into his office with my forms, he looked at me and let loose his negative tirade, “You young man, you speed up and down the Mall on your bike and now desire to have a permanent license?” I held my ground, “Have you ever challaned or even stopped me for any offence? Your allegations are totally baseless”. He looked at me and with a smile on his face quietly signed the license. About two decades later I met him again and showed him my driver’s license to confirm his signatures. Lahore of the sixties and seventies was different. The decline that started in 1985 which resulted in the demise of merit has not been reversed.
When I talk to my students about merit, they look at me in disbelief with a blank look. During my tenure at the Pakistan Science Foundation (PSF) after one of my training sessions, a Junior Scientist requested a meeting. He said: “We don’t understand the basic concept you talk about, in my case I was neither admitted nor passed any exam on merit. Even employment and promotion was not based on this criteria”. It was a reality check for me, we belonged to two different eras.
While I grew up in an age of merit, he was made to suffer in the dark ages of ‘Muk Muka ‘ introduced by Mian Sahib. Another bad unforgettable experience happened in the decade of the nineties, it took place with WAPDA. A team raided the area for power theft. They counted the number of Air Conditioners installed in the house and served me with a theft notice. On inquiry I was told that the meter had been tampered with, I was asked to pay a fine of Rs 50,000/=. I filed a written protest with the SDO, when I came out of his office, the linesman offered to settle the case for the gratification of Rs 500/= which I refused.
Finally, a Check Meter was installed to correlate the readings with the original meter. After over a year, with two painful disconnections of electricity, finally, it was determined that no tampering had taken place and the bill was corrected. With some pain and suffering merit finally prevailed over ‘Muk Maka’.
Transitions are never easy
After August 2018, Pakistan is moving in the direction of merit to overcome the menace of ‘Muk Maka’ which has now become a way of life in the land of the pure. Between 1985 to 2018 a lot of dirty water has flown under the bridge which has inflicted a widespread pandemic of corruption at all levels. Corruption kills merit. As a nation, we have to build a firm resolve to re-introduce merit. The Armed Forces of Pakistan remain functional because merit prevails there. After several unsuccessful attempts by the Sharifs to introduce their approach of ‘Muk Muka’, fortunately, they have been able to shield themselves from this menace.
Despite the PM’s desire to ensure merit, an effective framework for its enforcement does not exist. Conflict of interest is overlooked to accommodate the near ones. The principle of Recusal is blatantly overlooked. The divide between nomination and selection is mostly ignored. After the recent resignation of Chairman CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), the authority has been handed over to a freshly appointed SAPM (Special Assistant to the Prime Minister) without due process.
The previous team lead by Lt. Gen.(Retd) Asim Saleem Bajwa has been disbanded. Advertisements have appeared for the selection of three members on the MP-1 scale (Infrastructure, Industries, Food). While the position of members is being filled through open merit, the Chairman has been nominated and then positioned at the top, thanks to his former colleagues and friends in the federal cabinet. CPEC is an important project for the country which calls for the selection of the best available team through open merit. Pakistan has suffered enough at the hands of the ‘Muk Maka’ brigade.
Strict enforcement of merit through a foolproof mechanism is the need of the hour. Nominations of qualified individuals are fine but the selection has to be carried out by an unbiased neutral panel. Mian Sahib was selected against merit, while in the top position he ensured its demise. Once this process is reversed, individuals selected through merit and due process will ensure its across the board wider application bringing Pakistan back into the community of rising nations ending the gloom and doom inflicted by the dreaded ‘Muk Maka’.
The writer is an Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.