The most important principle of awarding a citizen is to recognise the merit of what he or she did in pursuance of a goal that eventually served the public interest. When criticism was voiced over his inception of Légion d’honneur as nothing more than just a bauble, Napoleon retorted ‘You call these medals and ribbons baubles; well, it is with such baubles that men are led.’ The human race needs to be lauded and awards are one of the ways of fulfilling this natural need. It is a national encouragement exercise and should reflect its true spirit.
Pakistan was declared a republic in 1956 and established its system of rewards in 1957. The national civil awards comprised of five orders with four descending categories: Nishan (Symbol), Hilal (Crescent), Sitara (Star) and Tamgha (Medal). The four orders follow sub-categories such as two prominent Nishan awards such as the highest civil award Nishan-e-Pakistan, and Nishan-e-Imtiaz though other sub-categories also exist as Nishan-e-Shujaat, Nishan-e-Quaid-e-Azam and Nishan-e-Khidmat.
Similarly, Hilal comes in five sub-categories prominent among them being Hilal-e-Pakistan and Hilal-e-Imtiaz. Siatara also has five sub-categories prominent being Sitara-e-Pakistan and Sitara-e-Imtiaz with Tamgha also having five sub-categories prominent being Tamgha-e-Imtiaz and Tamgha-e-Khidmat. In addition there are awards such as Pride of Performance and Order of Bravery (Shujaat) that are usually reserved for Pakistani citizens whereas rest of the awards could be awarded to foreign nationals as well.
The government announces awards every year on Independence Day 14th of August and the investiture takes place on the following Pakistan Day falling on 23rd March. The recommendations for awards are provided by provincial administrations and federal government institutions that are then sent to the Cabinet Division of the government of Pakistan. The recommendations are considered by three awards committees that forward the final proposal to the president for approval.
Pakistan inherited the awarding of civil awards from the British so it is relevant to mention that this process in the UK was not without controversy. In 1922, British PM David Lloyd George resigned but a major scandal broke over his resignation honours list alleging that he raised funds for his party by operating a price list for peerages, ranging from £10,000 (more than £400,000 today) for a knighthood up to £40,000 for a baronetcy. The Lloyd George affair led to the passing of the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act in 1925. In 1976, Harold Wilson’s resignation honours list was badly mauled when it was alleged that the head of Wilson’s office, Marcia Williams, doled out honours. In recent times Tony Blair triggered a row when it was alleged that he gave honours to people who made substantial loans to the Labour Party. Blair became the first serving prime minister to be questioned as part of a criminal investigation but no one was charged.
The civil award process in Pakistan is also full of controversy and it is particularly notorious for being extremely opaque in nature. It is the general apathy of the people in anything associated with governmental action that no one pays any attention to the conferment of civil awards otherwise there is plenty of muck there. The government, therefore, carries on with its binge without any care and consideration. People with connection in relevant echelons of government get themselves in the list with few of them actually deserving the award.
The lists of the last two years are a surprising mix of muddles perception. Illustrating an example may bring the point to fore: last year the highest civil award Nishan-e-Pakistan was given to late president Fidel Castro of Cuba citing his ‘services’ to Pakistan. This award reflected the spirit of the Cold War divisions when Castro was the hero of communism ‘valiantly’ resisting America. The resonance of antiquated perception appears very well soldered by the current wave of anti-Americanism in Pakistan just because the US is now questioning its ‘most-favoured’ non –NATO ally. Most disturbing is the question that what service did he do for Pakistan. In addition there are certain families who are always round the corner such as Tabba whose member Muhammad Ali Tabba last year got Hilal-e-Imtiaz and this year was the turn of Younus Tabba getting Sitara-e-Imtiaz.
The most worrying aspect is that this year it was widely reported that the approved list of the Cabinet Division was badly slashed by a non-elected favourite of PM Imran Khan who did it with impunity. There were many names that were added replacing many mentioned in the actual list. This needs to be investigated. Pakistan is unraveling and it is expected that the future to emerge out of this conceptual tumult will straighten things out. It is all the more important to bring about transparency in matters designed to uplift public spirit like conferring civil awards that helps in encouraging public participation in national affairs. TW