Why scrutinise civil servants? | By Shahid Farooq Abbasi


Why scrutinise civil servants?

IN a recent surprising move, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif, exercising powers conferred by Sub-Section 1 of Section 25 of the Civil Servants Act 1973, has officially tasked the country’s premier spy agencies, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) with the screening of civil servants before their induction, appointments and postings, as well as promotions.

As per the new exercise, after the endorsement of ISI and IB, important appointments and transfers will be approved by the Prime Minister, after which notifications of important transfers will be issued.

For many, the move was quite irksome, but in fact, the premier agencies already had the mandate to do so, the ISI and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) both send their clearance reports about civil servants before their postings on important assignments.

It should also be noted that clearance from ISI has always played a key role in the appointment of judges to the higher judiciary and the recruitment of defence forces and law enforcement personnel.

As bureaucracy or civil service constitutes the enduring and professional part of the policy-making organ of government, it is usually assumed as the non-political or politically neutral, permanent, and professionally trained civil service.

It runs the administration of the state rendering to the policies and laws of the government’s political organ.

The eminence and efficacy of bureaucracy depend on the quality and efficiency of the state administration.

It, however, works under the direction and control of the political administration. Now the question arises, why is there a need to scrutinize public servants after all they are highly qualified individuals and come into the stream after being tested meticulously under a painstaking process of Civil Services Examination commonly known as CSS?

This is a fact that bureaucracy is one of the most imperative extensions of any civilian government that helps state machinery to run smoothly, and without civil servants, a state may not be able to pursue its objectives properly.

Therefore, civil servants could be one of the prime targets of a foreign hostile agency. This is not for the sake of rhetoric only, but in the past, we have witnessed such examples where countries had to face international indignity when a hostile agency managed to infiltrate their bureaucracy and executed sabotage operations.

Here the example of Eli Cohen, also known as a billion dollar Spy or Agent-88, would be much more relatable.

Cohen was inducted by Mossad, an Israeli intelligence agency in 1955 and was infiltrated into Syrian bureaucracy under the alias Kamel Amin Thaabet in 1962.

Cohen managed to make rapid progress by building relationships with high-ranking Syrian politicians, military officials, influential public figures and the diplomatic community.

Soon, he started transmitting secret information on Syrian strategic plans and military positions to Israeli intelligence through radio transmissions, letters and occasionally in person.

During his multiple tours to Golan Heights, he took images and sketches of Syrian fortifications and shared them with Israel which is known as one of his noteworthy covert operations.

It is also assumed that with the help of Cohen’s provided intelligence before his arrest, Israel achieved remarkable success against the Arab coalition in a six-day war in 1967 and captured the Golan Heights in just two days of battle.

Eli Cohen was hanged to death in 1965 after being intercepted by Syrian intelligence. In the case of Pakistan, a renowned bureaucrat Jamaat Ali Shah who remained on the critical designation of the Indus Water Commissioner was suspected of damaging Pakistan’s interest and furthering the Indian narrative on the water dispute between the two neighbours.

He was removed from his post on suspicion of espionage. In 2014, the Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat sought the immediate arrest of former Indus Water Commissioner Jamaat Ali Shah for not protecting Pakistan’s water rights.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had also registered a case against Jamaat Ali Shah for purportedly acting as an agent of India by permitting it to build the Nimoo Bazgo Dam.

However, he had left for Canada by then. In both cases, if the governments had applied the much-needed apparatus of profound scrutiny and had sought proper clearance from the relevant intelligence agencies before appointing such suspicious figures to highly sensitive positions, the damage could have been averted.

This also induces the need for appropriate vetting of civil servants before their induction, promotion and transfers/postings in Pakistan as it will certainly improve the productivity of bureaucracy by eradicating corrupt practices.

Also, when seen under the lens of security perspective, all the criticism against the extraordinary decision by PM Shehbaz Sharif’s government of giving legal cover to ISI and IB to screen civil servants becomes irrational.

Instead, it demonstrates the amount of trust of the government in the capability of the country’s leading intelligence services in safeguarding the national interest.

—The writer is a freelance journalist and security analyst.


Previous articleUS prolonged trade war against China | By Zulkafil Hassan Khan
Next articleDecolonising higher education | By Dr Zia Ahmed