Messy officialdom in interior ministry | Imtiaz Gul

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Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is often a cauldron of outrage when responding to criticism of his ministry and allied departments. He believes detractors are being unfair to him. He has for sure a point there. But the point he misses is that — his sincerity, clarity and noble intentions notwithstanding — most of the army of officers and low-ranking officials are out of step with the challenges at hand. Their propensity to extract gratifications from Pakistanis and foreigners alike is boundless. Add to it inefficiency, lack of commitment and a hands-off approach when decisions at lower levels are needed to be taken and enforced. Often the police and ministry of interior officials responsible for issuing no-objection certificates and renewal of visas (in case of foreigners) come across as vultures on the prowl for prey.

The predominance of non-commitment and the nexus among bureaucrats keeps torpedoing even good moves. Here are five examples that explain the minister’s limitations.

A national daily reported (March 20) that the Immigration and Passport (I&P) director general has transferred regional passport office assistant director Zulfiqar Ali Iqbal on charges of ‘corruption’ after an FIA team verified complaints of corruption and misconduct at Gujranwala.

Another report a day later (March 21) said a passports and immigration officer was suspended while two others were arrested on charges of malpractice.

These two instances beg a basic question; how can transfer or suspension of an officer curb his corrupt instincts? If the investigators have caught them red-handed, why suspend them? Why the leeway and the permission to stay on?

The third instance relates to the blocking of computerised national ID cards (CNICs). The minister informed the Senate, the upper house, on March 20th that some 344,597 CNICs had been blocked thus far and that a whopping two-thirds, ie, 217,007 belonged to Pushto-speaking people. These figures suggest that officials clearly went after Pashtoon identities when it came to blocking CNICs.

Not only did this cause ripples among Pashtoon nationalists but also embarrassed the government itself for the simple reason that in order to please their bosses with heavy statistics, officials often go overboard.

This overzeal has landed scores of foreigners, most of whom have been living in Pakistan either for charity work or settled here with Pakistani spouses, in trouble. All of a sudden, such people found their long-term visas and, in some cases, Pakistan-origin cards cancelled as well as their bank accounts closed.

A crisis of unimaginable proportions for many such individuals. But officials at the ministry of interior either pass the buck to another desk or dither over on-the-spot decisions.

The only interpretation for this dithering could be that they are either looking for gratification or are too scared of the minister himself to take decisions. This thoughtlessly brutal application of new regulations invariably has entailed mental torture and confronted a lot of foreigners settled here with social and financial uncertainty.

An equally scary phenomenon is the latest official finding that 76 per cent of the 374 seminaries in the federal capital territory were built without any approved building plans. Most of them were built either in green areas or on encroached state lands in almost all sectors. The irony is that senior police, administration and military officials offer their Friday prayers in mostly illegally constructed mosques and madaris.

Even recently, the police and the CDA returned without action from a site in F11 where caretakers of a dubious shrine — a den of drug addicts and gamblers — have raised a fresh structure. Have officials struck some deal with the encroachers under the nose of an interior minister who — on the face of it — refuses to cut any deals with the violators of the law under the National Action Plan (NAP)?

Does the minister really have the capacity to ask officials about such deals or the pain they have caused to locals and foreigners by blocking CNICs? Or, is the situation beyond him?

The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate