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A Model Civil Servant

  • Adnan Aamir
  • Feb, 2020
  • 175
  • Non-Fiction

An autobiography by an exemplary bureaucrat offers tantalising glimpses into governance in Balochistan

Over the years, the province of Balochistan has been marred by bad governance, financial corruption and lack of intent on part of the rulers to resolve problems. This has created a dysfunctional system in the region, where the bureaucrats are either directly involved in corruption or not interested in resolving the problems of the masses, even if they are not financially corrupt. However, in the 49-year history of Balochistan since becoming a province, one unique and exemplary bureaucrat stands out: Ahmed Baksh Lehri.

Lehri was born in 1954 in Narmuk, a village located 165 kilometres south-east of Quetta, in a financially under-privileged family. In order to finance his secondary education, he set up a small shop in the town of Mach. After moving to Quetta in the early 1970s, he worked in a battery workshop before getting a clerical job. He appeared for the Central Superior Services (CSS) exams in 1978 and started his illustrious career in 1980. Lehri retired in 2014 after serving as chief secretary of Balochistan and federal secretary of five departments, among other postings. Perhaps only a handful of bureaucrats in Pakistan can be said to have achieved similar success.

This year, Lehri published his autobiography, On the Mud Track. The title is inspired by the humble beginnings of the author and also the under-development in Balochistan. The contents of the book, therefore, are focused as much on Lehri as on the governance issues afflicting the province.

In the mid-1980s, Lehri held the charge of director general of the Quetta Development Authority (QDA). He writes in his book that he had drafted a bill to restrict the construction of buildings in Quetta because of growing congestion and scarcity of water. However, he was later transferred and the bill was scrapped. If that bill had been allowed to pass by the assembly back then, today Quetta would perhaps not be facing the problems of extreme congestion and chronic water shortage.

Lehri criticises the spending of development funds by elected members of the assembly and notes that, in the 1980s, he was part of a committee to probe the misappropriation of funds allocated to MPAs. For the probe, he travelled 30,000 kms and prepared an 800-page report in nine months. Today, this report can be considered a charge sheet against the ongoing corrupt practices of MPA-driven development spending.

But corruption does not limit itself to government officials. Lehri also reveals that, when he was serving as assistant commissioner in the border town of Chaman, his friends would visit Chaman to shop for cheap, smuggled goods and expected him to allow unchecked transportation of the same to Quetta. He discloses that, as a consequence of his refusal to entertain such requests, he managed to lose many of his ‘friends’.

There is criticism in his book about the bureaucratic system, where common people face hurdles at government offices for even the most minor of issues. In order to tackle this problem, he initiated an open-door policy where, throughout his career, his door was always open to the public and no one was required to wait or schedule an appointment in advance. He continued this policy even after becoming the chief secretary of Balochistan - a position that comes with an enormous workload and innumerable responsibilities. The open-door policy not only made Lehri popular, but also set a precedent which has now been adopted by a handful of government officers.

A chapter in the book deals with Gwadar, the cornerstone of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. Lehri served in Gwadar from 2003 to 2008, where he established the Gwadar Development Authority (GDA). He fondly remembers the ‘good times’ of Gwadar when three air flights operated to the town per day and Western diplomats used to visit it by road. Today, the frequency has reduced to a few flights per week, which are often cancelled, and no foreigner can visit Gwadar without getting permission from the Home department of Balochistan. This explains why, rather than developing, things have changed for the worse in the last 15 years for the port town of Gwadar.

The author also touches on the deprivation prevailing in Balochistan and how the government machinery has failed to address this. For example, he reveals that, in 1980, there was a proposal to relocate the prestigious Civil Services Academy from Lahore to Quetta. However, the then director general of the academy made sure this did not happen. Had the academy been shifted to Quetta, it would have benefitted the city greatly over the last 39 years. Furthermore, when Lehri was appointed as secretary establishment during the caretaker government of Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, then ...

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