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A bureaucrat in a league of his own

A bureaucrat in a league of his own


A story of an ace bureaucrat known for his integrity who is widely remembered

By Javed Iqbal

Death is always untimely but it seems more so in the case of Abdullah Khan Sumbal, federal interior secretary, who passed away in Lahore on Thursday. He was 53.

Abdullah Sumbal, son of ex-CS Hayatullah Sumbal, has left a vacuum in the administrative service of Pakistan. As a great officer belonging to the 23rd Common, Sumbal was known for his unwavering integrity and had never faced corruption charges.

He had an impeccable track record while holding numerous significant positions such as Punjab chief secretary, secretaries to finance, higher education, information, special education, commissioner Lahore and Sahiwal, chairman Planning and Development Board and additional chief secretary.

A senior officer of the interior ministry conditioning anonymity while talking to this scribe said that Sumbal was facing immense pressure since he joined Interior Division as secretary.

Former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif also expressed surprise at the sudden demise of Sumbal. In his message on the social media site X, he said, "can't believe this saddest of the news about the passing of Abdullah Khan Sumbal".

PTI leader Moonis Elahi also took to X and condoled sudden death of former CS Punjab Sumbal.

Provincial service officers also expressed their grief on the sad demise of interior secretary Abdullah Sumbal. They said that Sumbal always honoured their services.

Former DC Lahore and at present Principal Secretary to CM Sumair Syed despite his hectic schedule and key responsibilities played a pivotal role of Sumbal's real brother after he passed away. He remained there to personally look after all arrangements to say his big brother, a good bye.

Book lover

Sumbal was perhaps one of the few senior bureaucrats who continued teaching despite a hectic service schedule. He taught at GCU, Staff College, Management and Professional Development Department etc. He taught Public Policy and management to university students.

Hassaan Ahmad, one of his students, said Sumbal's teaching methodology was very effective and he always taught without seeking any remuneration.

Cricket lover

Sumbal always spared time to play cricket. He also represented the Lahore Gymkhana cricket team.

Public Initiative

During his posting as Lahore Division Commissioner, Sumbal wanted proper public toilets in the metropolis as he liked neat and clean places in the city. Plan he successfully executed to the extent of Lahore, however, he couldn't extend it to the whole of Punjab even when he was elevated as chairman P&D and chief secretary Punjab.

Later, CS Kamran Ali Afzal, following his footsteps, focused on covering manholes across the province after a minor was dropped into the hole and died.

High-Powered Selection Board

Sumbal was neglected by the last high-powered selection board for promotion to grade 22. He once told this reporter that there was little merit even in the selection board.

He said some of those who were facing severe corruption charges in NAB were promoted but those with impeccable integrity were dropped.

Why officers like Abdullah Khan Sumbal could not find space to be promoted and change the system? The answer is not far to seek.

Indian example

In India, the development of the subcontinent was streamlined by the Indian Civil Service, which was hailed as the "steel framework" of administration during the colonial era.

Public service, not self-service, was the motto of civil servants in India. However, in Pakistan, many civil servants have prioritised personal gains over societal reforms.

Only a handful of these officers have left a mark in history. One such example is Shoaib Sultan, often referred to as the "godfather of the development sector," who transformed the Sir Aga Khan Rural Support Program into a success story.

Similarly, former civil servant Dr Amjad Saqib launched the famous Akhuwat microfinance programme, Sir Durand drew the historic Durand line between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Syed Rizwan Mahbub, one of the rare lot, who quit superior service, has a track record of environmental achievements to his credit.

ACE ICS officer

Ashok Khemka is an IAS officer renowned for his unwavering honesty and integrity, earning him the nickname of "transferred man" due to being moved over 50 times in his career. Despite facing numerous challenges, Khemka consistently upheld the highest ethical standards in his work.

He was involved in several high-profile cases such as exposing corruption in the Haryana government and cancelling a land deal involving DLF and Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi.

US example

After retirement, American presidents often engage in socially responsible activities such as establishing libraries and schools or lecturing.

Lords of Files

In Pakistan, there is a tradition of officers and politicians hankering after positions and utilising any means necessary to achieve them, ultimately wasting their energy serving their masters rather than the nation.

It is high time such a culture and tradition were changed.

From the gripping pages of Lord of the Flies to the disheartening reality of 'Lords of Files', we find ourselves in a world plagued by lethargic officers who squander state resources without outcome.

A group of bureaucrats, akin to the characters of William Golding's masterpiece, have lost sight of their purpose, succumbing to complacency and apathy. However, hope is not lost yet.

To fix this white elephant of bureaucracy, it is vital to implement reforms, as India’s Modi did despite severe opposition from officers, that will breathe new life into the system.

Streamlining procedures, fostering accountability, and promoting innovative thinking are key steps to reignite the passion and efficiency that our society desperately needs.

It is time to transform these highly paid Lords of Files into exemplars of progress, advocates of change, and guardians of public interest.

The unfortunate death of Abdullah Khan Sumbal serves as a reminder of the challenges faced by honest and dedicated bureaucrats in reforming a system plagued by red-tape and corruption.

It is an open secret that countless officers prioritise their political masters' interests over those of the people they serve.

It remains to be seen how history will judge these individuals who have betrayed the very system they are entrusted to uphold.

Given the current state of affairs, it has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for dedicated, honest, upright and visionary bureaucrats to effectively deliver and reform the system for the benefit of society.

A shift in mindset and a rejection of the political games that hinder progress is urgently required.

The best way to pay tribute to Sumbal is to carry on the legacy of honesty and integrity he strove for throughout his career.