Yes Minister

I received a surprise call on the evening of March 23 from the protocol officer of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government asking for my correct name. When I asked why, the person at the other end congratulated me and said that I should reach the Governor House in Peshawar to take oath as a minister in the caretaker government of the province. He had taken it for granted that I had consented to be a minister since any ambitious person would do that.
I had never allowed myself the mental luxury of aspiring to reach such positions. So it was natural to ask, “Why me?” A stream of emotions ran through me. Not sure of what to do, I timidly broke the news to my family and then quickly dialled a few senior colleagues asking for their opinion. They said that it was an honour and there was no harm in accepting the offer. After a few hours I came to the conclusion that since I had already walked one side of the corridors of power, I should do the other half for a short while.
The next day I went to the stately Governor House. A brightly-dressed band was playing – drums and bagpipes. The noise was too loud, both for the occasion and my sensibilities. We soon started repeating after the governor, “I (name) do solemnly swear that…” Soon after the oath I tried to figure out if the Quran had been witness to the oath. It wasn’t. Muslims believe that if one makes Allah or His Book witness to what one commits to do then we face divine retribution in case the oath is broken.
Well, I had seen the Bible brought out when the president of the United States was sworn in. The word ‘swear’ is defined in the dictionary as “to make a solemn declaration or affirmation by some sacred being or object, as a deity or the Bible”. Now I know why oaths are treated as empty words in Pakistan.
The oath I took had no mention of the province I was supposed to work for. Instead I was sworn to work for the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of Pakistan. Does this mean that those who work for the well-being of their province do not serve Pakistan? Should the provincial governments not work for the development of their own provinces and the federal government for the country as a whole?
I have reached one conclusion: this oath was drafted by those who completely distrusted the provinces and their allegiance to the country. The best line in the oath would have been, “I shall work for the prosperity and well-being of the people of (name of the province) and the integrity and solidarity of Pakistan.”
The oath of a provincial chief minister or minister is rather long. Not content with what is said earlier in the oath, the same is repeated in a slightly different form. Where one word would suffice, two more have been added. One full sentence could be easily omitted – it has a total of 207 words. The ‘official’ oath of office of the president of the United States of America consists of about 50 to 60 words. The British prime minister takes three different oaths – an oath of allegiance to the monarch, the privy councillor’s oath and as first lord of the treasury. They are all brief and to the point.
After retirement from the civil service my phone had stopped ringing. After the news of my being appointed a minister broke, my phone came to life and refused to stop ringing. Friends and relatives (they are welcome), acquaintances that one would hardly recall, friends who were long forgotten, friends of my relatives and their acquaintances and relatives for whom I had ceased to be useful long ago, called and congratulated. I answered every call, every missed call and every text message. I have an iPhone and, believe me, in a couple of days it started showing signs of fatigue.
Being in office was not new to me. That saved me from having an exaggerated sense of importance. But I kept thinking of those who get elected for five years and are also lucky to bag offices! No doubt the power travels to their heads. A friend in power is a friend lost.
To be concluded