Over 26,000 official files await declassification
* Ministries violating declassification laws
* National Archives of Pakistan understaffed
By Shahzad Raza
ISLAMABAD: More than 26,000 official files await declassification and their transfer to the national archives, but ministries and other public institutions have been reluctant to obey the law relating to declassification
Sources told Daily Times that the administration of the National Archives of Pakistan had already written several letters to various ministries reminding them to declassify files that are 20 years old. They said important ministries including Defence, Interior, Foreign Affairs and the Cabinet Division are among the biggest culprits.
The National Archives Act, 1993, passed by the National Assembly on Feb 8, 1993, and the Senate on March 2, 1993, says: “Public record… shall be made available to the public for the purpose of reference or research after twenty years of their creation.”
The Archival Material (Preservation and Export Control) Act, 1975, also provides for preservation of all materials that may be of historical significance.
In 2004, the review committee of the national archives looked at some 50,000 files. The committee – consisting of two retired professors, the director general of the national archives and an official of the relevant ministry or department - concluded that 26,552 files were transferable to the archives. However, there has been no positive movement from the ministries so far.
There is room in the National Archives Act to exempt documents related to national security from declassification. However, under the umbrella of that exemption, several ministries have refrained from submitting important official records.
The only exception provided in the law for non-submission of records was left vague in terms of time. “The secretary of an administrative division may withhold the transfer of any such records to the National Archives for such period or periods as may be prescribed.” The files submitted to the national archives are divided into two categories: ‘important’ and ‘ordinary’. The important files include those which were confidential before their declassification. The ordinary files were considered public files.
None of the ‘important’ files declassified by the big ministries contains major revelations. Most of them relate to policy decisions. So far, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has submitted only 42 ‘important’ files, the Ministry of Interior has submitted 552 files, Ministry of Finance 360, Ministry of Health 582, Ministry of Education 6,116, Ministry of Sports 1,274 files, Ministry of Tourism 1,219, Ministry of Culture 1,617, Ministry of Water and Power two, Ministry of Labour and Works 53, Establishment Division 260, Prime Minister’s Secretariat 390 and the Attorney General’s Office has submitted 8,232 files.
Of the 26,552 files that the review committee of the national archives concluded should be declassified, 9,504 files are of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, 6,771 of the Ministry of Labour and Manpower, 902 of Foreign Affairs, 419 of Science and Technology, 794 of States and Frontier Regions, 706 of Defence, 65 of Industries, 864 of Food and Agriculture, 200 of Defence (Aviation Division), 3,845 of Culture and Sports, 144 of the Economic Affairs Division, 375 of the Audit of Defence Service, 333 of the Livestock Division, 87 of the Planning and Development Division and 423 files of the Cabinet Division.
The law makes it mandatory for government departments to submit all papers, documents, records, registers, printed material, books, maps, plans, drawings, computer records, machine-readable records, photographs, microfilms, cinematographic films and audio and video recordings officially received or produced, including records relating to commissions and committees appointed by the federal government.
The National Archives of Pakistan is also grossly understaffed and various review committees have proposed recruitment, but to no avail.