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Pakistan

Elite civil service jobs a step too far for Pakistani Catholics

The educated have moved out of the country while those left behind struggle to qualify for the competitive exams

Elite civil service jobs a step too far for Pakistani Catholics

Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi inaugurates a preparatory class run by the Catholic Board of Education at St. Mary's Cambridge School in Rawalpindi on July 12. (Photo courtesy of Commission for Social Communications of Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese)

Some 40 young Catholics aspiring for a place in the Central Superior Services (CSS), Pakistan’s permanent elite civil service, enrolled for the preparatory classes launched by the Catholic Board of Education in Lahore Archdiocese last year. Only five attended its last session.

The aspirants started dropping off due to the tough syllabus. Still, 12 appeared for the CSS 2021 exams held in February. None of them passed the written examination whose results were announced on Sept. 30.

The first batch included 26-year-old Sana Komal, who works in the administration department of the Kinnaird College for Women. “It was hard preparing for the exams while working for more than eight hours. Studying for three hours, three days a week wasn’t enough,” she told UCA News.

Like her, most of the Christians aspiring for the elite civil service have full-time jobs and were appearing for the competitive examination for the first time. “We were only taught six compulsory subjects. There was not enough guidance for optional subjects,” Komal said.

The CSS exam consists of four parts — a written examination, medical examination, psychological test and an oral test. Candidates must be aged 21-30 and have completed 14 years of education in post-primary school classes.

The examinations are conducted by the Federal Public Service Commission for postings in commerce and trade, customs and excise, district management, foreign affairs, income tax, public information, military lands, office management, audit and accounts, police service, postal service and the railways.

Sadly, the standard of our schools has been declining for the past two decades. The concept of community development is becoming rare

In 2019, the Church started offering young Catholics a six-month preparatory course, for which private classes would charge around 70,000 rupees (US$410). The Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Multan and Lahore dioceses charge a mere 1,500 to 3,000 rupees and also provide textbooks and learning material.

Asher Javed, chief executive of the Catholic Board of Education, is confident the CSS classes will usher in a change. “We hired successful CSS alumni and lawyers and the sessions in Lahore were fully subsidized by Archbishop Sebastian Shaw,” he told UCA News.

The board has registered several students for the next CSS session at St. Anthony’s College in Lahore. Christian missionary schools are popular in the Muslim-majority country for their discipline and higher learning. Both former president Asif Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif are alumni of Catholic schools in Karachi and Lahore respectively.

According to Yaqoob Khan Bangash, a Catholic historian and educationist, Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz is the last high-profile politician who studied in a missionary school.

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“Sadly, the standard of our schools has been declining for the past two decades. The concept of community development is becoming rare. The gap is widening between the middle and upper-class Christians,” he told UCA News.

Many well-educated Christians have moved out of the country while those left behind struggle to meet the minimum requirements to qualify for the competitive exams.

Christians tend to opt for careers other than the civil service even though the national government has allocated a 5 percent quota for minorities in government sector jobs. Many among the minorities are poor and illiterate people who end up doing menial jobs, rights organizations claim.

Educationists and activists cite discrimination and poverty as the two main obstacles to progress among Pakistan’s Christian minority. “Illiteracy is also a huge problem among young Christians who can only hope for a miracle,” said Bangash.

The vacancies keep piling up as female aspirants are also failing to fill up the reserved quota in the CSS exams

In 2019, a one-man commission was formed to push the federal and provincial ministries and departments to enforce the 5 percent minority quota in government jobs. The provincial cabinet in Punjab even approved a 2 percent quota for non-Muslims in universities.

Still, out of the total vacant posts in the government sector, 43 percent are those reserved for minorities.

On Sept. 28, the Supreme Court expressed its concern over more than 30,000 job positions for minorities remaining vacant. The top court remarked that the federal and provincial governments in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were not recruiting minorities and directed them to take prompt action and submit a report.

The vacancies keep piling up as female aspirants are also failing to fill up the reserved quota in the CSS exams. Last year’s exam was an exception as one Christian woman candidate managed to clear it. But that was a rare success story and hardly reflects the reality on the ground.

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