A public document in 1954 quoted this stanza to explain expectations from a civil servant. Civil servants provide public goods, promote social justice and perform regulatory functions. For this reason, citizens expect them to act as impartial agents of state rather than as representatives of political parties in power. But in democratic governance, civil servants work in a subordinate role with political executives who expect civil servants to assist them wholeheartedly in achieving their manifesto goals. Often the boundary between professional commitment and personal allegiance gets blurred due to the political executive’s ability to reward and penalise civil servants. The simultaneous autonomy-subservience expectation from civil servants makes a classic catch-22 situation; it is a complex challenge to create a balance between the competing demands of neutrality and subservience from civil servants. Former civil servant Aminullah Chaudhry writes in his book Political Administrators: The Story of the Civil Service of Pakistan that the ‘apolitical nature of pre-independence ICS officers is often quoted as an example to be emulated by post-1947 members of the service’. In the contemporary post-colonial democratic political order, drawing such parallels is uncalled-for. In a democratic polity, civil service is inherently designed to work closely with political executives. Then it is important to know how and when the delicate balance is lost which results in the politicization of civil service. Two eminent scholars, Jon Pierre and B Guy Peters, have defined politicization of civil service as the ‘substitution of political criteria for merit based criteria in the selection, retention, promotion, rewards and disciplining of members of the public service’. Despite a principal-agent relationship, if principle of merit is strictly upheld, civil service can remain largely apolitical in character. In Pakistan, since independence, the recruitment of all members of core federal and provincial civil services have been made on merit due to an elite consensus to continue the pre-independence tradition of attracting the finest human resource through sheer competition. The boundary between professional commitment and personal allegiance gets blurred due to the political executive’s ability to reward and penalise civil servants But things get different when it comes to making placements of civil servants. Politicians argue that since they bear the cost of administrative inefficiency in terms of voters’ resentment in elections, they should have a choice in selecting civil servants for specific positions. For instance, Commissioners, DIGs, DCs, SSPs and Administrative Secretaries are such positions which fall in the category of high sensitivity for political governments. If political executives can reward certain civil servants by giving them important assignments or impose penal costs upon them by arbitrarily removing them from sought after positions, then one needs no complex algebra to imagine the cost-benefit analysis which civil servants would engage in while making their choices. If civil servants are enabled to work in an environment free from fear, and get career progression opportunities based on institutional mechanisms rather than political connections, they can perform better — which earns spontaneous public applause and political dividends for the ruling politicians. But the institutionalised career management of civil servants should by no means compromise the political executive’s command over civil service. Political executives should hold civil servants accountable for performance failures and making comprises on integrity. But it should not be in a wayward manner; rather it should be based on well-defined indicators and procedures. In the 2012 judgement on the Anita Turab case, the Supreme Court of Pakistan made it clear that the appointment, removal, transfer and posting of civil servants should not be decided arbitrarily. The judgement emphasizes ‘the concept of a civil service which enjoys certain legal protections’. The same judgement further says, ‘A duty is thus cast both on the civil service and on the political executive to ensure the effectiveness of the civil service’. This historic judgement declares the civil service no less responsible for taking initiatives to secure legal protections for civil servants than the political executives. But it is an irony that the civil service itself has yet to take initiative, despite the passing of more than five years since the landmark judgement was made. It is high time that the terms of engagement of the civil service vis-à-vis political governments were redrawn. Citizens are the ultimate stakeholders in having an efficient civil service at their disposal. Therefore, it is important to make the civil service a tempting career for the flower of the Pakistani youth; who are otherwise finding it increasingly difficult to have convincing reasons for pursuing a career in government. If the best and brightest are not attracted to join a career in civil service, then not only the political governments — but the state and society too would be at a huge loss. Better terms and conditions of service can help in making civil service effective and attractive. The writer is a development policy analyst Published in Daily Times, March 13th 2018.