Islamabad: A former Pakistani Foreign Secretary today asked Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to offer consultancy services to President Asif Ali Zardari so that the successful turnaround of Bihar state could be replicated in Pakistan.
Riaz Khokhar, who served as Pakistan's envoy to India during 1992-97, made the suggestion during a roundtable discussion on the theme "Growth Story of Bihar" that was hosted by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, a leading think-tank.
Khokhar's suggestion evoked laughter from a gathering of former diplomats, researchers and civil society representatives, who listened with rapt attention as Kumar listed the steps he had taken to control law and order and provide governance at the grassroots level.
Kumar listed these two factors as the main reasons for the turnaround in Bihar. He said he had made it clear that "the guilty would not be spared". Courts were set up to conduct speedy trials and the police force was overhauled, and this led to the conviction of over 74,000 criminals.
"As part of our efforts to control corruption, we even seized huge bungalows that were built by a former bureaucrat and a former senior police official," Kumar, who set aside a prepared text in English and addressed the gathering in Hindi, said, adding that his government passed the Right to Public Services Act as part of measures to ensure good governance.
"This has ensured the time-bound delivery of services like the issuing of certificates. Any delay in providing services results in disciplinary action against officials," he said.
The Chief Minister trotted out impressive figures that reflected the improvement in the situation in Bihar. Air traffic to the state rose by four time in six years while the number of foreign tourists increased ten-fold from 94,000 in 2006 to over 972,000 last year.
The Bihar Bridge Construction Corporation, which was almost defunct, had recorded a turnover of Rs 1,200 crores with a profit of Rs 250 crores, he said. Kumar also highlighted a scheme to provide bicycles to girls in villages to improve attendance in schools as a programme that could easily be replicated in countries like Pakistan.
"When I came to power seven years ago, jokes about Bihar were widespread, but we made the people and bureaucrats believe they could be part of the change," he said in response to a question on whether his government had offered incentives to officials to change their work culture.
Kumar reiterated the need for more exchanges between India and Pakistan even as he referred to the common culture and heritage of the two countries – something that has been a recurring theme of his visit.
"No problem has been solved through war, dialogue is the only way out. The people must meet and talk," he said. "These talks must not be only between Delhi and Islamabad. There should also be a dialogue between Karachi and Patna and Amritsar and Lahore," Kumar said.
Though a columnist known for his criticism of India sought to elicit Kumar's views of the issue of Kashmir, the Chief Minister did not refer to contentious issues and stuck to his call for improved ties between the two countries.
Kumar arrived in Karachi on Friday for a week-long visit at the invitation of Pakistan’s federal government and the governments of Sindh and Punjab provinces. His trip has been backed by the Indian Prime Minister's Office and the External Affairs Ministry as part of efforts to boost the bilateral peace process.