Staffing the State: The Politicisation of Bureaucratic Appointments in Pakistan


Sameen Andaleeb Mohsin Ali

PhD defended at: 

SOAS University of London


This thesis contributes to the literature on the politics of bureaucracy. I show how politicised bureaucratic appointments in Pakistan ‘get things done’ even beyond the career advancement of a particular patron and her bureaucratic appointee. In order to show this, I trace the politicised appointment of senior and mid-tier bureaucrats by political and bureaucratic patrons using legal, extra-legal, and illegal methods in pursuit of three types of outcomes: (i) bureaucratic efficiency; (ii) electoral gain; and (iii) personal enrichment and protection. I contend that particular combinations of actor ‘objectives’ and ‘methods’ result in particular types of bonds – either strong or diffuse – between the patron and the appointed bureaucrat. It is, in turn, the interaction of these three variables (objective, method, bond) that determines whether or not the patron achieves the outcome she wanted, i.e. ‘what gets done’.

This research is motivated by two questions: What do bureaucrats need to ‘deliver’ and how is this ‘delivery’ linked to bureaucratic appointments? Based on interviews, semi-participant ethnographic observation, and newspaper archives, I find that those in a position to influence bureaucratic appointments are better able to achieve their desired outcomes, not when they undertake formally 'illegal' appointments (which introduce higher personal and political costs), but when they exploit loopholes in existing appointment procedures. As such, I stress ‘extra-legal’ appointments. Furthermore, I note that the centralisation of discretion and patronage in the hands of political leaders and their political and bureaucratic allies (here, a provincial Chief Minister’s ‘kitchen cabinet’) has empowered some to make legal and extra-legal bureaucratic appointments more than others. Those excluded from this inner circle are pushed towards illegal methods of appointment to achieve their objectives.

In short, I argue that understanding patterns of bureaucratic appointment facilitates our understanding of governance. Though I focus on appointment practices in one province (Punjab), my conclusions are applicable more broadly—within Pakistan and beyond.