. . . . . .  

Having driven past the imposing white building adjacent to Governor’s House on Lahore’s Mall for many years, I was intrigued by what lay within its forbidding Palladian facade. Once inside, would I be disappointed, like those privileged to be taken into the interior of the Holy Ka’aba, by its mundane reality?

The building had once been the Punjab Club, then the Pakistan Administrative Staff College, and more recently the National School of Public Policy. The NSPP was a body established during General Pervez Musharraf’s regime to re-organise the training of the civil bureaucracy, from the stage of initial entrants into the various services, through their careers until their promotion from Grade 20 upwards.

It was a bold experiment, intended to break the silo mentality that divided the components within the bureaucracy. The District Management Group (formerly the CSP), the Foreign Service, the Police, the Audit & Accounts Service, etc., knew little of how the others functioned.

The NSPP designed a curriculum which would enable each level of responsibility to understand governance – at the provincial level through the Senior Management Course, and the national level through an integrated National Management Course. This brought future Secretaries, Ambassadors, Inspector-General, Director-Generals at a par before they reached the summit of their careers.

I was inducted into the NSPP almost against my will. What I thought was a social exchange with its Rector and its Faculty was in fact an interview. I happened to be passing the NSPP building when I received a call asking me to collect my letter of appointment as Directing Staff (International Relations). This was a sinecure normally reserved for retired ambassadors. My only credentials were that I had written two books on Dr. Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China and on Pak-China relations during the 1970s.

NSPP’s Rector General Javed Hassan had been selected personally by General Musharraf (they shared responsibility for the Kargil fiasco).  He brought to NSPP a combustible energy, a radial range of provocative ideas, and contempt for civilians, especially the civil service.  He regarded subservience as synonymous with obedience. Like Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did with his scheme for Lateral Entrants into the civil service, General Hassan used every opportunity to sap the participants of their pretensions.

Bereft of their support staff, they were required to do chores like research and write position papers individually or in groups, or prepare Powerpoint presentations before an audience of critical experts. One ambassador, I recall, collapsed in a flood of tears before her presentation and had to coaxed into appearing on stage.

The heavy emphasis on security strategies brought the NSPP closer to its sibling the National Defence University. I was asked to review the curriculum of both, and to assess the commonality of subjects taught at each. On its conclusion, I told the NDU head that subjects like Constitutional Law, The Penal Code, Fiscal governance being taught at his university gave me the impression that he was training his officers not if they came to power, but when they came to power. (The only module missing was property management.)

If the individual cadres had a silo mentality, I discovered that so did the top management of NSPP. I recall vividly a meeting during which the Inland Tour programme was being discussed. Visits to the various Corps enjoyed expected prominence, as did a tour of PAF Kamra and briefing by the National Command Authority responsible for our nuclear assets. My suggestion that we should also visit the Pakistan Navy Headquarters was rejected, until I asked who was defending over a thousand kilometers of our southern coastline.

It took some time to insinuate change within the NSPP. To help the participants understand the structure and sequence of the International Relations module (in a day, for example, they would hear lectures on Monetary policy, Police Reforms, the function of the Sharia courts, or US-Pak relations), they needed to locate each topic within the overall curriculum. Therefore, I preceded each talk by the invited specialist with a brief presentation on the topic giving the historical background, current developments and interstate issues. The rest of the Faculty protested, upbraiding me for wasting the time allotted to the speaker. They might have had their way, had the Rector not cut them short by telling them that they should be making similar introductions for their modules.  

Interacting so closely with senior bureaucrats made one aware of their foibles. One did not know how to pack his suitcase, another couldn’t cut a slice of bread from a loaf, a third tried to smuggle boiled eggs in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.

At the end of my three year stint at NSPP, the Rector asked for my honest opinion of the bureaucracy. My two word response was: ‘Institutionalised Inertia’.

Since 2008, successive governments and NAB have stiffened that inertia into rigor mortis.  



[Dawn, 25 Aug 2022.]



25 August 2022
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