- With the advent of highly educated, super confident, and motivated young women and men in civil services, the face of district management has had a huge makeover in the last few years.
- Existing within the system of hierarchical, outdated bureaucracy, and feudal mindsets of a large number of politicians with decreasing land ownership and inflated egos, and linear mentality of industrialists-turned-politicians that everything and everyone has a price tag, these bright officers, through their steady work and clear-headed vision to make their districts a model area, are the hope for a Pakistan that is kind, inclusive and fair.
Almost every second person on the paternal side of my Tarar family is in civil service. From my grandfather and father who both retired as deputy commissioner, and my older brother who is currently an ambassador, to my first, second, and tenth cousins, there are countless Tarars in various sectors of Pakistan’s civil service. Since my childhood, I associated the District Management Group (DMG), renamed Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) in 2012, officers with a solemn stuffiness that flourished in wood-panelled, beige and white offices, and work that had a seriousness that was almost unrelatable.
Another constant about high-ranking DMG officials was their not-so-private complaints about the invasive interference in their work from self-entitled politicians and highhandedness of parliamentarians and ministers. Much of that remains the same. Politicians are that one group of people who has a lifelong pledge not to be very nice in their interaction with civil servants whom them they consider an extension of their large group of sycophants and yes-men. Not all politicians are like that. Those are a rare breed. Much of that is changing now. About time, I’d say.
With the advent of highly educated, super confident, and motivated young women and men in civil services, the face of district management has had a huge makeover in the last few years. Existing within the system of hierarchical, outdated bureaucracy, and feudal mindsets of a large number of politicians with decreasing land ownership and inflated egos, and linear mentality of industrialists-turned-politicians that everything and everyone has a price tag, these bright officers, through their steady work and clear-headed vision to make their districts a model area, are the hope for a Pakistan that is kind, inclusive and fair. Through social media, they reach people beyond the cities of their current posting, and their consistent responsiveness to issues and complaints of people has revamped the staid old office of assistant commissioners and district commissioners.
Last week, I thought of starting a series of articles on the work of some important provincial and federal ministries. That made me think of another set of people whose service is constant and the acknowledgment scarce, hackneyed and miserly: PAS officers. In their long days, they do many things and touch many lives. Most of their work is considered to be part of their institutional responsibilities, although there is also much that they do that is not in any playbook of traditional bureaucracy. I noticed two tweets, and with my lifelong familiarity with the office of commissioners, I knew without being told that the tweets manifested humanity that was beyond the expected and the traditional. To me these officers are heroes. They noticed the invisible beings, and did something. They reached out to the forgotten, and showed them that someone still cared.
They are Assistant Commissioner Attock Jannat Hussain Nekukara and Deputy Commissioner Peshawar Muhammad Ali Asghar.
Jannat was in news a few weeks ago for her message of religious coexistence in a world of increasing faith-based divisions and hateful intolerance. Jannat tweeted on January 19, 2020: “Distributed sweaters and warm clothes among the inmates of District Jail, Attock. Additionally, checked on the measures taken for the general welfare of the prisoners particularly focusing on their rehabilitation programmes.”
Assistant Commissioner Peshawar tweeted on January 6, 2020: “Our project to neuter and vaccinate stray dogs is in full swing. This was conceived by @DCPeshawar with help of Livestock Department, WSSP, TMA and PDA as a humane alternate to culling of dogs. We will release these dogs with tags and collars.”
Courage of conviction
I contacted Assistant Commissioner Jannat and Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Ali. Both of them responded. With my huge admiration and gratitude for their splendid initiatives, in their own words, their careers and their humanity that I find beautiful and inspirational:
Jannat Hussain Nekokara: “I hail from the Nekokara family based in District Chiniot. I have been posted in Attock for about six months now. I stood third across Pakistan in CSS 2014 exam and secured first position in the forty-third Common Training Programme among two hundred and forty probationary officers, bagging the prestigious Presidential Gold Medal.
“I joined Pakistan Administrative Service with a passion to do my humble bit in contributing to the welfare of Pakistani society. Subjects like girls’ education, improved provision of health and nutrition services, human dignity and equality, environmental conservation and social inclusion are very close to my heart. I’m proud of myself for still cherishing the ideals that made me choose the path of civil service to begin with and for working to uphold them.
“While there lay numerous challenges to promoting of pluralistic values and developing a truly egalitarian society, I'm amazed and inspired by the philanthropic character of the Pakistani society. Continuing to do the best we can in limited government resources, a cardinal principle of my work philosophy is to tap the ability of the community to come forward in the aid of the marginalised by creating a patchwork of social security and social welfare nets.
“Regarding my visit to District Jail, Attock, traditionally speaking, it is not an established part of an assistant commissioner's job description, but my interest in the welfare of the socially ostracised took me there. We're working with the government and private sector for the welfare of prisoners with a two-pronged strategy: building the character and mental strength of the inmates through psychological means, and enabling them to be honourable, useful members of society through capacity building. The aim here is to help them reintegrate with society once they're out of jail.
“To meet these goals, we've established a Prisons Welfare Society comprised of philanthropists and professionals from the Social Welfare Department. The activities include mental health and character-building sessions with psychologists, and projects like juvenile, adult and computer literacy. We’ve involved TEVTA, a provincial technical and vocational skill development authority, to impart skills like embroidery, stitching and carpet weaving. “We've been able to develop a dedicated drug rehabilitation ward. Through the Prisoner Welfare Society, we are also putting in place a mechanism for fine payment of financially underprivileged prisoners who are serving jail time [beyond their sentences] for their inability to pay fine.
“The reason behind my work for prisoners of Attock jail is that I’m simply concerned about their well-being since they are so vulnerable.”
Deputy Commissioner Peshawar Muhammad Ali Asghar: “I did my CSS in 2010 and joined the service in 2011. I stood ninth in all of Pakistan. I was allocated DMG, which was later converted to PAS. Since the beginning of my career, I have served in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Before Peshawar I was deputy commissioner in Bannu, and since April 2019, I have been posted as DC Peshawar.
“About the stray dogs’ initiative, this idea originated around September last year. A few cases of rabies were reported in the district of Peshawar, and the usual methodology was adopted in all such situations in the government sector. We go on a killing spree [of stray dogs]. So, it was expected of the district administration to again initiate dog killing and clear the streets of stray dogs.
“Being an animal lover and a pet keeper, I thought there must be a better way [to handle the situation]. When we were contemplating the scenario, there was a case in Peshawar. A person had had a stray dog neutered and was taking care of him. During the killing spree the municipal authorities killed that dog too. That caught our attention.
“We brainstormed that the way we neuter our pet dogs why could we not use the same method for stray dogs. We did a cost analysis. We worked it out; it was a viable financial solution, so we decided to go for it. We designed the programme. We did a pilot for one hundred dogs in Hayatabad, and it gave good results. Then we went for the whole scale project. It has been initiated.
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“The idea is that we catch, say, ten to twenty dogs per day from different parts of the city. We bring them to our facility. First of all, they are given an antiseptic wash. Then a blood test is taken. The blood is screened. If the dog is found rabies-positive, he is killed in a humane way. If the dog is rabies-negative, which is ninety-nine percent of the cases, he is vaccinated against rabies and is neutered so that he cannot reproduce further. Then he is tagged with a red collar that has a reflective screen. His ear is marked with a code, which is in our record. The next day or two, the dog is kept in our facility for post-treatment care and then released.
“Now that dog is a state-protected dog. He can be visibly seen even at night because of the reflective collar. He is not unsafe for the environment anymore. He is rabies cleared; he is vaccinated. This I think is the humane way. When the dog dies a natural death, the population will decrease. That is how ultimately the problem will reduce on its own.
“So that was the idea. At the moment, we are in the middle of it, we are improving it based upon different things that we see, different issues that we encounter. Let’s see, we are hopeful, that it will be a success, inshaAllah.”
Here is to two more glorious steps towards a better, a more humane, a more compassionate Pakistan.