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Rumours of an extended version of a technocrats’ setup were aimed at testing the waters

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akistan’s political circles and power corridors are again engaged in deliberating over the idea of installing a government of technocrats for a longer-than-usual period. The idea was not taken seriously by major political parties. Reservations against it came from major political stakeholders including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf. Since the idea of a technocrat setup does not have political support, it will remain just that – an idea.

One of the first people to moot the idea was the former Federal Board of Revenue chairman, Shabbar Zaidi, who mentioned it during a TV news programme. Later, it came to be known that Zaidi and the former governor of State Bank, Raza Baqir, were behind it. The two technocrats have served in Pakistan and their performance at the FBR and the State Bank speaks tonnes about their expertise. Both claim, however, that they never had a free hand to implement their policies.

Most historians hold that a technocrat setup was first introduced by Gen Ayub Khan. Factually speaking, it was introduced in Pakistan by Governor General Ghulam Muhammad, a technocrat with impressive performance in audit and accounts, who formed a ‘cabinet of talents’ that included Gen Ayub Khan and Iskandar Mirza. The cabinet was largely unaccountable to the legislature and ended up laying the foundation of the first dictatorship in Pakistan. The infamous doctrine of necessity was also introduced during this period.

Later, Gen Ayub Khan brought more technocrats in his military setup and the outcome was the concentration of wealth in the hands of 22 families. His team also introduced certain policies that created a social and political rift in the country that later led to the creation of Bangladesh. This regime also disqualified Hosain Shaheed Sohrawardy leading Sheikh Mujeeb to rename the Awami Muslim League as Awami League.

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In 1977, the third military ruler Gen Zia-ul Haq imposed a martial law. He then proceeded to run the country with the help of technocrats and retired generals. Till 1985 the outcome was the rise of militancy, sectarian violence, drugs and weaponisation of the society.

Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1997 also included several technocrats in their teams. These included the likes of Khalid Ahmed Khan Kharral, Vaseem Aun Jafri, Sahibzada Yaqoob Ali Khan and Sartaj Aziz. However, all of them worked under parliamentary supervision and delivered the best results on various fronts including economy, foreign affairs and defence.

During July-October 1993, Moeen Qureshi was imported as a caretaker prime minister. He had several technocrats in his team and is known for having imposed taxes as caretaker prime minister and paying debt-service instalments.

When Gen Musharraf took over and decided to hold elections in 2002, he and his team of military leaders, led by the then ISI chief Ehsanul Haq decided to bring a parliamentary form government with Shaukat Aziz, another technocrat, as the prime minister. Several technocrats were part of their pre-and post-election cabinets. These included Zubaida Jalal (as an educationist) and Abdul Sattar Khan (as a foreign relations expert). Initially, they could not get Shaukat Aziz elected as the prime minister because he had no constituency to contest the direct elections from. He served as the finance minister in Mir Zafarullah Jamali’s cabinet. Later, he contested from Attock, on a seat vacated by Iman Tahir, a niece of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. He won the constituency and became the prime minister.

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A technocrats’ government, especially one that is not answerable to the parliament, has always led the country in the wrong direction locally, regionally and internationally.

The recent PTI-led government also included several technocrats, some of them because of their qualifications – such as Dr Moeed Yousaf and Dr Sania Nishtar. Others were brought on board because of other qualities. These included the likes of Dr Shahbaz Gill and Shahzad Akbar. Still, all of them worked under parliamentary oversight.

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Technocrats, because of their qualification and skills, are necessary for a nation’s development but they must be made to work under the parliament’s supervision. This is how thy contribute in developed nations. Interestingly, some people confuse the word technocrat with economist.

There are already reserved seats for technocrats in the Senate. Unfortunately, political parties mostly get their members elected to these seats on the basis of loyalty, sometimes even after palm-greasing.

As soon as the possibility of setting up a technocrats’ government started doing the rounds through some elements in powerful quarters, political forces strongly voiced their concerns against it.

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Federal Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar says, “There is no room for a technocrat government in the constitution.”

Adviser to Prime Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira says, “The PPP does not believe in anything that is not constitutional. Therefore, we don’t support the idea of a technocrat setup for a long term.”

One of PTI’s top leaders, Fawad Chaudhry, has said, “Delaying elections and installing a technocratic government will be a conspiracy against Pakistan. We will resist it.”

The military leadership also appears neutral on the issue. It can be safely said that rumours of an extended version of a technocrat setup were aimed to test the waters. It evidently failed to garner any support. Therefore, such a possibility can comfortably be ruled out.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher

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