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Random thoughts

November 5, 2018

Administration a la jungle


November 5, 2018

The government has been seen to take haphazard actions, causing it to already lose credibility with the people. Some of these strange decisions are forcing people to start questioning the ability of Imran Khan to run the country.

On October 30, a very interesting article was published in these pages, written by Barrister Ali Zafar. The article was titled ‘Ultracrepidarian’, meaning one who offers advice or opinions beyond his/her sphere of knowledge. He gives the etymology of the word ‘crepidarian’ as dating from a great painter named Apelles in Ancient Greece.

Apelles would put his work out for the public to see and then, while out of sight, listen to what people had to say about it. One day a shoemaker passed (legitimate) criticism on the incorrect depiction of the latch of a shoe, but then went on to find fault with other aspects of the painting, which caused Appelles to exclaim: “don’t let the cobbler criticize anything above the sandal” (the original quote contains the word ‘crepidam’).

Ali Zafar used this story to draw attention to the present mode of government in the country where every Tom, Dick and Harry talks about matters about which they know very little. It is quite natural and, unfortunately, quite common to have such people in society, but the government should ensure that its officers are free from that kind of behaviour.

Ali Zafar correctly pointed out that it should be of great concern to the public if a ministry is run by an incompetent minister and secretaries. The result would be, and has been in the past, disastrous to the country. I have pointed this out in many of my previous columns and shown that incompetence is at the root of maladministration. This is caused by the undesirable system of selecting bureaucrats with insufficient knowledge and education in the field of their appointment – sycophancy and nepotism being the main cause of this. Even abroad, ministers are often not experts in their field, but they are overall well educated with a good knowledge of affairs. The bureaucrats in those ministries are, however, top experts in the respective fields. They spend all the careers in the same ministry and know their work inside out. Here we have inexperienced, insufficiently informed bureaucrats running different ministries at different times during their careers. If the ministers and his secretaries are not specialists, the country is bound to suffer.

Prof Attaur Rahman has been advocating a presidential form of government. But that has a lacuna, as pointed out by Ali Zafar. Punjab, the largest province in terms of population, will always be able to grab the slot. It will be difficult to find a second Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, who enjoyed national popularity.

The cobbler’s story given above reminds me of another famous mythological episode. It was once referred to by one of our competent and able diplomats, Mr Riaz M Khan. In an article in Dawn last year he paid tribute to Maryam Mirzakhani of Iran, a mathematics genius who, at the age of 36, won the Fields Prize in Mathematics, which has almost the same status as that of a Nobel Prize. She received her undergraduate education in Iran (hats off to their excellent educational system) and then a PhD from Harvard. She died at the age of 40 from cancer (may Allah shower His blessings on her soul).

In the same article, Riaz Khan he mentioned that he once met the former chairman of PAEC, Dr I H Usmani in New York. During discussions, Dr Usmani said that one young lad (Dr A Q Khan) was a fraud and taking the nation for a ride by claiming that, by using a ‘madhani’, he could make nuclear weapons. Well, that so-called ‘fraud’ showed the world that the impossible could be made possible.

Riaz Khan then pointed out to Dr Usmani that the West (US) had used two methods for making nuclear weapons, viz enriched uranium from diffusion and plutonium from irradiated fuel in reactors and then extracting plutonium using the reprocessing process. Pakistan used the third, totally untested technology – the centrifuge method of enriching uranium to weapons grade.

Riaz Khan compared me to Prometheus, since I gave Pakistan nuclear weapons and guided missiles and was being punished and tormented (by our own governments and beneficiaries) for it.

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