QUETTA: In a province wracked by insurgencies, a growing number of young men and women appear to be far more interested in climbing the highest echelons of the government rather than taking up arms against it, with the number of candidates from Balochistan appearing for the Central Superior Services (CSS) examinations skyrocketing over the last four years.
The CSS examination is held in February each year by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC), and are the entry route into the powerful Civil Services of Pakistan.
The exams are conducted simultaneously in 12 cities across the country and require candidates to appear for 12 written subject tests, an interview, a medical and a psychological exam before they are formally admitted to the civil service.
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While the test – and government service – have historically been popular in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, there have been few candidates, and even fewer officers, from Balochistan in the past. However, that appears to be on the verge of changing rapidly, according to figures from the FPSC annual reports. In 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of registered candidates from Balochistan went up by 11.4% to 537 compared to 2011. The number of candidates who actually showed up to the tests rose by an even higher 39% to 409 candidates, compared to 2011.
The rising trend in interest in the CSS exams, and a career in the civil service, appears to run counter to the two perceptions of Balochistan most common among people outside the nation’s smallest province: that it is filled with uneducated people, most of whom want to break away from Pakistan. Amjad Khan, the FPSC Provincial Officer, disagrees.
“The rising interest in the CSS exam is partly because of the spread of education among the youth and their confidence in the merit system of the FPSC,” he said. “A few years ago, we only had two examination halls in Quetta that could accommodate all the candidates. Now we need eight or nine halls.”
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A look through press releases naming successful candidates over the last four years confirms that it is not just ethnic Punjabis appearing for exams in Balochistan, but ethnic Baloch who are appearing and succeeding in the exams as well. In 2013, for instance, a doctor named Hafiz Bugti, a final-year medical student, cleared the exams. An Army captain Aurangzeb Badini is part of the most recent batch of candidates to be accepted into the civil service as well. A total of eight candidates from Balochistan passed the most recently concluded exams and were accepted into the Civil Service.
Owing to its small population, Balochistan has historically had a much smaller representation in the Civil Service compared to other provinces. In 2006, the government tried to change that by increasing the quota of officers from Balochistan from 5.3% to 6%. Young Baloch professionals appear to be attracted to the same perks of a Civil Service officer that appear to attract people from other provinces: the ability to live like an official from the colonial Raj, with nearly as much power, a fact the FPSC unabashedly advertises in marketing itself to new recruits.
“A deputy commissioner is the head of an entire district, with much higher perks and privileges than any other professional,” Amjad said.
The rise in interest in the CSS exam has also been good for business among those who run coaching services for those seeking to take the exam.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2015.