A Former Civil Servant Remembers The Monitoring Teams Set Up By Musharraf Regime

A Former Civil Servant Remembers The Monitoring Teams Set Up By Musharraf Regime
This is the first part of a series by the author's remembrance of a turbulent phase in Pakistan's governance. The author questions if anything has changed in the manner power is exercised during the past decades despite the return of 'civilian' rule.

Pakistan is an interesting country where supply of unbelievably shocking incidents never dries up. The most recent bizarre incident of IG police’s abduction in the wee hours of morning allegedly on the orders of military official flashed back reminiscences of my days in the civil services which I am sharing here for better understanding the evolution of the current “state above the state” phenomenon.

My starting premise is that institutional thinking and practices do not erupt suddenly but gradually grow over a period of time. In this rationalisation of the ‘state above the state’ phenomenon I would refer to the notion of “Governmentality”, introduced by famous French Philosopher Michel Foucault. At its simplest, it can be defined as the organised practices through which subjects are governed and influenced. Pakistan has a distinct form of governmentality wherein military officers are indoctrinated through rhetoric at the training stage. They are led to believe passionately that they are the custodians of the country and what the top brass of military says is more important than any written law or procedure.  While this governmentality was already very visible in the proclamations of all chief martial law administrators, its manifestation in an institutionalised manner was introduced by Pervez Musharraf in the form of Army Monitoring Teams (AMTs) System of governance. I would share some reminiscences of my interaction with AMTs when I used to work for the civil services of Pakistan.

In a flashback I am sitting in the hall of a government building in Haripur city where I am listening to a heated discussion that is taking place between a captain of army and Superintendent of Police (SP) on the crime rate figures of the city. I was there because all district heads of government departments had been called to ‘personal interviews’ with the Lt Colonel in charge of AMT for the local setup. “DC, Custom” announced a soldier, so I entered the room remembering Mirza Ghalib who, in the aftermath of the failed Sepoys uprising, had been summoned by the office of Colonel Burn for interrogation about his involvement in the Delhi based coup. After some exchange of pleasantries, I was bluntly asked by the colonel that why tax people had such a bad reputation. Invoking history, I replied that all famous revolutions had tax related grievances in the background and taxmen were always unpopular in human history. I referred to the American War of Independence, but before I could complete my narration the colonel thought it appropriate to impress me with his history knowledge by interjecting “Oh yes, Abraham Lincoln’s war you mean”. I offered a silent nod and dropped the plan of extending my narration to the French and Russian revolutions. The colonel then turned straight to the actual business. “have you got any information about the misdeeds of PML N ‘s local leaders such as Gohar Ayub? My negative answer didn’t please him much and he reiterated the need of extracting some helpful information. To wriggle myself off, I referred to some arrears cases in which courts had granted stay orders so were beyond our reproach. “We will fix these courts as well”, he exclaimed and then let me go.

My more extensive interaction with the AMT happened in Peshawar as I was holding the administration charge of the Collectorate. A Lt. Colonel was overshadowing our late Collector Hafiz Jamil, an overzealous disciplinarian. One day I accompanied the Collector to the local high command of the AMT where the brigadier inquired about a recent auction in which foreign cloth was also included. He was of the view that the auction price was very low and hence the auction be cancelled. Then a subedar major was called in who was tasked with purchasing the cloth for the local OSD shop where wives of army officers shopped diligently foreign goods. We had no option but to agree to the proposed action and then face the music of enraged successful bidders. The next day I sent our auction officer with the auction price list to the subedar major who in complete reversal of agreed action declared the auction price to be too high and hence refused to purchase the items. We were left with no option but to let the original auction take course as per law and procedure.

Another flashback is related to Appraisement collectorate Karachi where once again I was in charge of the administration besides looking after vehicles import. In appraisement, valuation of imported goods is of pivotal importance. The Lt. Colonel in charge of AMT there had singlehandedly taken over the task of valuation and we would go by the values dictated by him. Consequently, there was almost a paralysis like situation as nothing could be done till his excellency, the Colonel had not issued valuation for various items. For adjudicators a very difficult situation emerged for us because the importers started contesting the valuation since there was no legal basis of the valuation authority i.e AMT colonel. In one such case, I decided to formalise what was being done verbally and informally.

In my order I contended that “since martial law had been upheld by the Supreme Court therefore a new legal order was in force where CMLA had become the highest source of laws. The AMT system had been set up by the CMLA therefore all orders received from AMT had the overriding effect upon all existing laws”. I had purposely done this in order to shift the onus to the higher courts to clarify the situation in writing. The upset importer later told me that even the appellate tribunal members were clueless how to handle my line of argument.

My third place of interaction with the AMT system was in Quetta where I was posted as Deputy Director of Customs Intelligence. No sooner had I taken the charge than my office was visited by two serving majors. They politely asked for the list of all seized vehicles by our organisation. After perusing the list, they gently asked if a few cars that were befitting for a general’s use could be earmarked. I asked the superintendent to let them inspect the vehicles and make their choices. After they departed, I deputed one Intelligence Officer to check where the earlier vehicles had ended up. In two days, it was reported that the family members of senior army officers were using them for their leisure. (More recently the news of a senior military official's son having a Ferrari which crashed and resulted in killing of two army officers surprised many, but I had no difficulty in understanding how he got hold of such a vehicle.) The next day I received a phone call that the Lt. Colonel of local AMT  for customs matters had convened a meeting and I also am required to attend it.

(to be concluded)

The writer teaches public policy in University of Hertfordshire and is the founder of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at hashah9@yahoo.com