Once Upon A Time

The dysfunctional state of Pakistan and criminal apathy of its governing organs was starkly revealed yet again on February 16, when the peaceful Hazara community in Quetta suffered another pogrom, which killed or maimed scores of people just like the previous such attack on January 10.
The aftermath of the attack once again paralysed the country, adding to the ongoing economic meltdown that has already brought the country to the brink. After the usual assurances by the government – somewhat serious this time around, though –, the Hazara community finally agreed to bury their loved ones. Reportedly, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is ensconced in Mastung and the Frontier Corps (FC) has shown some resolve in taking them to task.
The menace of terrorism started with Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan jihad to counter Soviet incursion into the country, and Pakistan has not seen a day of peace since then. It started with the conscription of the youth to sign up as mujahideen to fight the Soviet ‘infidels’. That Pakistan is now in the grip of religious fervour and most of it is misguided is stating the obvious.
Madressahs have proliferated without let or hindrance, although the progenitor of this trend Gen Ziaul Haq died a quarter century back. The trend shows no sign of abating and the current civilian government has miserably failed to stem the tide of extremism in the country.
The sound administrative setup inherited from colonial days has been thoroughly disfigured both by dictators and venal politicians. While the number of officers has increased ten-fold, their efficiency has gone down in inverse proportion. From secretaries to inspector generals of the police, officers are daily paraded before the Supreme Court but no one takes responsibility and there are no honest answers. The taxpayer is justified in inquiring why this bloated administration should be maintained when no one is working.
However, there have been better times – when the administration was both effective and well-informed. I would like to narrate an episode that shows the responsiveness and effectiveness of the administration only a quarter of a century ago.
In the last week of December 1987, when the Afghan war had entered its final phase, the then home secretary of Balochistan received a letter written in broken Urdu by a teenage girl. The handwritten letter, originating from Lahore as the post mark indicated, was regarding the girl’s elder brother, 18-year-old ‘K’, who had fallen under the influence of a religious party fighting a holy war (jihad) in Afghanistan. The boy was reportedly travelling to Afghanistan through the Quetta-Chaman border in Balochistan. The letter stated that the girl’s distraught father could not stand the grief and died of heart failure. Her mother only cried at her helplessness and the endless uncertainty of her son’s fate. ‘K’ was her eldest of four children – two sons and two daughters. The girl ended her letter with a request that her brother be detained at Quetta.
Dozens of such letters arrive on officials’ desks and get marked to subordinates who do the most obvious – file them away. But this one did not meet the same fate. The home secretary was moved by the letter and asked one of his key contacts (officials dealing with law and order and intelligence are provided funds to recruit such unofficial local contacts) to gather some intelligence. After a few days he was informed that the group of mujahideen the boy was travelling with, having crossed the border, was routed in an encounter with the security forces near Kandahar. Regarding fate of the boy, he was informed that ‘K’ had been taken prisoner and was lodged in Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul.
The contact was asked to bribe his way through and deliver some money to ‘K’ in prison and also obtain a letter from him. He succeeded and obtained a letter in ‘K’s’ handwriting on a crumpled piece of paper. The home secretary forwarded this piece of precious evidence to his mother in Lahore. The news brought instant joy and relief to the family. The family thanked the home secretary who was now determined to secure freedom for the boy. It was not an easy job for the home secretary of a province in Pakistan to secure release of a prisoner from another country in the midst of a war. It seems moral authority gave him a lot of power.
Emissaries shuttled between Quetta and Kabul and after tough bargaining managed to get the boy released. The home secretary did not inform anyone nor sought permission for this covert and unofficial operation. He has never met ‘K’ or his family but feels great satisfaction in looking back at the happy outcome of his efforts. He was the home secretary of, Balochistan and officially had no concern with a supplicant belonging to Punjab. But when it came to alleviating the distress of a family, he thought in terms of Pakistan and not provincial jurisdiction.
Such was the dedication to duty and humanity found in our public officials. Unfortunately, such acts that serve the public are rarely witnessed today.