opinion: In search of a leader —Rafia Zakaria
If the democratic leaders are unable to provide vision, ideology or leadership and continue their in-fighting the resultant vacuum may well be filled by a more pernicious and ultimately annihilating scourge
A recent cartoon in a national daily implied that President Pervez Musharraf was taking cues from a Paris Hilton ad. The caricature is apt, and not simply because it relates to General Musharraf. Politics in Pakistan, plagued as it is by political opportunism and expedience, has devolved to a level of absurdity where even Ms Hilton would be a viable candidate for president.
Historically great leaders are those with vision and an inspiring sense of direction and purpose around which they rally a nation. This quality, the ability to carve an ideological direction for the people whose hearts and minds they hope to conquer has been a consistent aspect of leadership regardless of the particular political bent of a leader.
The power of leadership has been such that it has worked to initiate revolutions, reverse deflating economies, put an end to wars, carve out new nations; in other words it has been an incredible mobilising force that can work miraculous feats of political accomplishment. Great leaders define the reality of their nation: a crisis can seem like an opportunity, a war like a struggle for emancipation and a catastrophe fuel for revenge and empowerment all under the direction of a visionary that understands and truly cares for the nation whose helm he seeks.
The quest or even hope for such leadership in Pakistan is an exercise in dejection. Neither of the two major stars in the country’s most recent coalition drama can aspire to call themselves leaders, let alone great ones.
Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, has a questionable educational background, and no training in governance or statesmanship. Like many other political leaders in Pakistan, his rise has been facilitated by his feudal background, his immense landholdings and his expeditious marriage into an established political family.
Nawaz Sharif has had a similar rise facilitated by family wealth, convenient connections and immense assets. He, too, has no venerable educational background or experience in governance, statesmanship or constitutional construction.
Raised on the sense of entitlement that comes with such largesse, these two leaders are now busily figuring out a convenient way to divide the spoils of power left in the coffers after Musharraf’s departure. The mechanics of the latest “constitutional package” being negotiated as part of the coalition talks are evidence that it is expedience rather than ideology that is dictating the political decisions made by either party.
Ideologically speaking, the PPP has always stood for an independent judiciary and strongly supported the lawyers’ movement in its initial stages. The 2007 PCO, however, with its Machiavellian provision of indemnity to Zardari in the same stroke as the institution of new judges, put an end to the party’s commitment to this principle, amply illustrating its commitment to the political future of Zardari as its central precept rising above all other principles and ideological commitments.
All in all, despite the precarious existence of the ruling coalition, and the dramatic threats of abandonment parried about by the PMLN, the very players in the game are attestation enough of the reality that it is politics as usual in Islamabad, and the right kind of concessions and political favours will eventually result in a deal between those divvying up the pie.
Consternation at this stagnant, elite-centred system that dominates Islamabad is palpable in the hordes of young people lining up to leave the country. Their efforts to leave and the successes of those who do is ample evidence that the lack of leadership in Pakistan is not because the country does not produce any leaders, but rather because the leaders it does produce are being exported elsewhere.
A look at Pakistani expatriates in the Gulf, Western Europe, and the United States will provide ample evidence of the research, management, entrepreneurial, and governance skills of Pakistan’s human exports. In other words, the lack of capacity to build a nation, provide infrastructure, build solid institutions, construct constitutions and enable legal order is because of a dearth of opportunity and not intelligence.
One excellent example of this is the oft-mentioned 33 percent quota reserved for women in Pakistan’s state and national legislatures. According to one member of the Punjab provincial assembly, the vast majority of appointees to these seats are the wives, sisters and other family members of political scions from feudal families cashing in political favours they are owed by the ruling party. Few if any of the women have any qualifications that make them appropriate for appointment, and some are even appointed for medical reasons as with the position comes free treatment on the government’s tab.
And this, of course, is just one instance in which meritorious candidates with ample ability and educated vision are sidestepped in favour of the un-trained yet well connected. This story is representative of Pakistan and the current tug of war between Sharif and Zardari is yet another hopeless iteration of the same old hackneyed game.
The Constitution in the coming days will likely be butchered some more, once again leaving marks of self-serving tampering in the tradition of military dictators of old. Similarly, political favours will be exchanged and, depending on the outcome of the talks, a new set of elite beneficiaries will be appointed to sack the country’s coffers while a disaffected nation watches and waits for the next political cataclysm.
This protracted lament regarding the lack of leadership in Pakistan and the absence of vision, principle or training in the leaders vying for its helm would have less urgency if an alternative vision of leadership and a much more virulent ideology was not rearing its increasingly powerful head in the northern frontiers of the country. If the democratic leaders are unable to provide vision, ideology or leadership and continue their in-fighting the resultant vacuum may well be filled by a more pernicious and ultimately annihilating scourge.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org