The PTI government in its relatively short time in office has betrayed an incredible talent for shooting itself in the foot. In the latest of such gaffes, the federal government on October 9, 2018 removed the Punjab Inspector General (IG) of police barely four weeks after he was posted. Two consequences flowed from this decision. One, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) suspended the notification removing IG Mohammad Tahir as violating its ban on transfers and postings of officials till the by-polls on October 14. It also sought an explanation from the Establishment Division Secretary within two days why its instructions in this regard had not been complied with. Two, the police reforms commissioner imported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) for his much acclaimed changes in the province’s police functioning, Nasir Durrani, reportedly resigned. It is inexplicable how the Establishment Division Secretary, an experienced officer, was either oblivious to the ECP’s directives or, which may be even more sinister, failed to inform the government of the fallout of its decision. The PTI has often boasted of the reforms its government in KP from 2013 till this year’s election carried out in the province to depoliticise the police and ensure its autonomy from political interference. This claimed flagship achievement was made possible by the helmsmanship of Nasir Durrani. Now if he has resigned on the issue of the removal of the Punjab IG, it raises a host of questions about the claims regarding KP as well as leaving the government with egg on its face for doing precisely what Nasir Durrani was inducted in Punjab to prevent. And what was the PTI government’s beef with IG Mohammad Tahir? According to federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, the IG was replaced because he was not following the government’s orders. Reportedly, he had been resisting requests by PTI bigwigs to have sundry District Police Officers (DPOs) etc transferred and replaced by their own blue-eyed boys. He had also reportedly resisted pressure from the PTI government to remove those police officers from their posts who were investigated and cleared by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the Model Town killings case. Prima facie, the IG was doing the right thing. If this is going to earn the ire of the PTI government, is there any hope of the necessary Punjab police reforms, let alone the better functioning of other segments of the bureaucracy? Prime Minister Imran Khan on the same day had exhorted civil servants to improve their performance, being the backbone of the state, as the government’s policy of depoliticisation of institutions, meritocracy and transparency offered them a great opportunity to do this. Whither such appeals in the face of crass self-interest interfering with this policy in the case of the IG Punjab?
It has unfortunately become an entrenched custom that governments pick and choose officials to serve their partisan political interests, whether at the federal, provincial or district levels. The disease is so widespread and of such long standing that it hardly raises an eyebrow by now. It has come to be subliminally internalised by the state and society as the ‘right’ of the incumbent government to have officials of its choice in prize positions. This is precisely what the PTI boasted it had overcome in KP in the case of the province’s police under Nasir Durrani, and what it intended to do in the rest of the country. If so, the PTI government has fallen flat on its face at the first hurdle. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened in the first 50 days of this government. When the PTI was in the opposition, it castigated the PPP Sindh government for its repeated attempts to remove Sindh IG A D Khawaja. It was only when the Sindh High Court intervened that these efforts subsided. Now it seems the PTI has not heard of the old adage: what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. The case of Punjab IG Mohammad Tahir has shown that far from a principled position on depoliticisation and autonomy for the police, the PTI government is inclined to embrace this principle when convenient, and abandon it when it is not. Good governance?