| Welcome to Global Village Space

Monday, July 15, 2024

Technocrats and Political Oversight in Pakistan’s Interim Transition

In a rapidly evolving political landscape, Pakistan has seen the rise of technocrats as key players in governance, displacing traditional bureaucrats and sometimes even politicians. This shift brings both opportunities and challenges, particularly during interim periods when elected assemblies dissolve and the country strives for free and fair elections.

Worldwide, technocrats have replaced bureaucrats, but in the land of the pure, they have taken the place of politicians. Due to managerial complexities, bureaucracy became obsolete about half a century ago and was supplanted by trained ‘Technical Managers’ or ‘Technocrats’. Elected representatives of the people provide direction and oversight to these technocrats to implement policies that benefit the populace. In the USA, the President appoints unelected professionals as cabinet members to oversee various departments or ministries, while oversight, monitoring, and accountability are conducted by elected Congress members (House of Representatives and Senate). Technocrats require directives to effectively deliver, as without them, they may lose focus and effectiveness.

The pressing question is: “Who will provide the necessary directions and oversight to the current interim setup in the country?” With the dissolution of elected assemblies paving the way for free and fair elections, any additional mandates for the current cabinet could lead to complexities and confusion, which must be understood and avoided.

Read more: Duty, Country, Honor

Understanding the matter better

Even the least favorable politicians can gauge public sentiment as they remain in close contact with the people and speak their language. Bureaucrats are trained to maintain distance from the public, whereas technocrats are trained to deliver results once the policy framework is established. In the current setup, where will these directives come from? This marks the eighth interim setup; the preceding seven have all failed to deliver free and fair elections, their intended purpose. The original 1973 constitution did not envision an interim arrangement. In major democracies around the world, unelected individuals are generally not permitted to assume positions of power. The incumbent President or Prime Minister becomes a ‘Lame Duck’ leader until their successor is duly elected.

After the present turmoil subsides, it is imperative to reconsider the concept of a ‘Nigran Hakumat’ (Caretaker Government), as this approach has proven disastrous in the past, lacking in true care. As per legislation, the leader of the outgoing assembly and the opposition nominate the Caretaker Prime Minister. However, the final selection often occurs elsewhere, counterproductively. Imagining a scenario where sitting Chief Ministers (CMs) continued in Punjab and KP, the situation in the land of the pure would likely have differed significantly. Prolonged rule by unelected individuals poses a severe threat to democracy. In KP, the entire cabinet had to be replaced due to questions surrounding their neutrality. Pakistan requires a constitutional, orderly transition of power without interference from the establishment.

During my tenure as Chairman of the Pakistan Science Foundation, I attempted to persuade PM Mir Zafarulla Jamila to introduce ‘Technocrats’ in technical ministries. His immediate response was, “They are not elected.” I had to clarify that they should be appointed as Secretaries, not Ministers, as was done in the seventies when the elected government of Bhutto introduced technocrats through lateral entry. Engr Masood Hasan was appointed Secretary of Defence Production, Dr Muhammad Ajmal as Secretary of Education, and Naseem Ahmed as Secretary of Information, to name a few.

The PM has the constitutional authority to appoint all Grade 21 and 22 officers. Bhutto utilized this power to introduce technocrats to key positions, significantly impacting the performance of the sluggish bureaucracy. This practice should continue for these senior positions. While Jamila Sahib eventually agreed, his time in office came to an end. His refusal of Military Action in Dera Bugti led to his removal. He was succeeded by a technocrat who turned out to be the worst PM in history. The President acts on the advice of the PM; both should have faced trial under Article 6 of the constitution, alongside Musharraf.

Read more: The technocrat thought: Answer to Pakistan’s woes – Lt Gen (retd) Tariq Khan

The third usurper also assumed control in an interim capacity, with the intent to hold elections within 90 days. He then established “Mobile Summary Military Courts” for expedited justice, which ultimately became a source of ridicule. Zia’s misrule persisted for over eleven years, during which civilian institutions suffered significant damage. The democratic order continues to suffer due to this unwarranted intervention by the dictator, who governed through handpicked, unelected individuals. The Constitution endured but was marred during this era. Recent legislative activity by the outgoing government has further compromised the unanimously agreed-upon document. A current controversy surrounds two vital bills that profoundly impact human rights and individual liberties. Despite the President’s reservations, these bills have been enacted.

In the present scenario, the interim, unelected, technocratic administration must concentrate on facilitating free and fair elections, for which a clear roadmap and directives are necessary. Political input is crucial for course correction, an aspect absent from caretaker administrations. Bureaucracy will continue to hold sway, as they control documentation and administrative processes. Dr. Arif Alvi, the President of Pakistan, laments that his directives were disregarded by his own staff. As a useful tip to the current incumbents, the age-old diary system must be embraced and adhered to. Every office maintains entry and dispatch registers, which should be routinely monitored to track incoming and outgoing communication and prevent such oversights. Failing to do so would perpetuate business as usual. Caretakers should prioritize public welfare, an aspect lacking in previous interim setups. Pakistan requires technocrats to replace bureaucrats, not politicians.


The writer is the Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.