May 092008

The experience of other countries has shown that strong institutions, through a process of checks and balances promotes meritocracy that in turn throws up quality leadership. Regrettably in Pakistan we have erected the entire state edifice on the basis of patronage

The prestigious Time magazine in its latest issue has listed among its 100 most influential individuals, two from Pakistan, one being the COAS General Ashfaq Kayani and the other the tribal leader and top militant Baitullah Mehsud.

And both have been listed in the category of “Leaders and Revolutionaries”. The other four categories comprise “Heroes and Pioneers”, “Scientists and Thinkers”, “Artists and Entertainers” and “Builders and Titans”.

The appearance of these two names gives rise to many questions in one’s mind. Are these individuals truly the most influential in Pakistan’s national scene today? Is this selection a fair assessment or merely a reflection of the US global agenda of pursuing their “war on terror”?

Paradoxically, the answer to both the questions is in the affirmative and a sad reflection on the state of the nation – and the global world order.

Notwithstanding General Kayani’s high personal and professional attributes, the two “Leaders and Revolutionaries” – Kayani and Biathullah – represent the disproportionate ascendancy of militaristic and militant power in Pakistan.

It also shows to what extent our political, cultural, academic and intellectual leadership has been marginalised and the power of the people diminished.

Clearly, it is also an indication of the high value placed on military power in the context of national and international security, although the most pressing security challenges in Pakistan and the region are in building constructive capacities as opposed to destructive ones.

In the past, the army’s overblown role in politics and running the affairs of the state has been the fundamental reason for thwarting the creation of strong civilian institutions. Growth of institutions creates a favourable environment for new leadership to emerge. On the other hand for building strong institutions the country needs leaders that value the importance of institutions.

Army leadership in the past has always been averse to allowing the growth of institutions or nurturing of civilian leaders. The military always advanced the argument that political leaders are flawed and have failed in the past. Based on that premise it never allowed a new crop of leadership to emerge and instilled fears about them being untested and problematic.

Even today President Musharraf, to protect his power base, is doing his utmost to undermine the political leadership. And we are seeing, as has been the practice in the past, the establishment’s resistance to the transfer of genuine power to civilian leadership.

The experience of other countries has shown that strong institutions, through a process of checks and balances promotes meritocracy that in turn throws up quality leadership. Regrettably in Pakistan we have erected the entire state edifice on the basis of patronage. In politics, public and private enterprises, judiciary, sports organisations and even universities, leadership is chosen on patronage. In an unjust milieu leadership remains flawed and compromised.

If judges are selected on the basis of personal preferences instead of professional excellence and integrity then the judiciary will be weak and justice will be the casualty.

Similarly, if political leaders are chosen on the basis of family lineage and personal loyalties, then democracy would suffer.

After the tragic assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, PPP had an excellent opportunity of democratising the party. Instead it chose on emotional and personal ground to retain the leadership within the family. PMLN is no better as its top leadership revolves around Sharif’s family. The same is true for ANP and the politico-religious parties.

What has made the leadership problem even more acute is that the two main leaders are outside the parliament, making governance more complicated and harmonising major national policies difficult. It would be advisable for our top leaders Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif to be a part of the parliament.

Formulating policies from outside and exercising control over government-functioning creates problems. If this practice continues, the prime minister and other ministers would be relegated as mere advisors to the two “supreme” leaders.

In the military, the selection process for senior ranks is institutionalised and is merit based, which has been instrumental in maintaining quality of leadership. But whenever the selection of the Army chief has been dictated by political rather than professional criteria highly adverse consequences have followed. Moreover, prolonged politicisation of the military has negatively impacted on the professional competence of its leadership.

In the private sector industrialists or businessmen who run their enterprises on professional lines as opposed to family ventures and reward talent throw up good quality leadership. This clearly demonstrates that integrity, meritocracy and systemic strength are functional requirements for any society to progress and actualise the full potential of its people.

Our political leaders once again have a unique opportunity of putting the country on the right course and relaying the foundations of the state. The people have given them an overwhelming mandate. They are legitimate and democratically elected. Army has withdrawn to the barracks and battle locations and democracy has become an institutional and security imperative. The president’s wings have been clipped and his powers could be further curtailed if necessary.

In this fairly supportive environment political leaders should set aside their personal agendas, resolve the judges’ issue on a priority basis and start addressing the real problems. People are facing food shortages, are burdened with galloping inflation and a disturbed law and order situation. Combating terrorism and militancy is another major challenge and would require a focused and well coordinated effort to succeed.

Military power has so far failed to bring political victory or stability either in Afghanistan or the tribal belt. Meanwhile, we are constantly and unfairly being discredited internationally for our role in the war on terror.

Resolving the insoluble dilemmas and conflicting demands between the expectations and aspirations of the people and the aggressive foreign policy agendas of the world powers is not an easy task. But if there is political will and the leadership is able to devise a strategy to hold the alliance it may be possible to overcome these challenges. Failure would amount to a political Hara-kiri and tantamount to national betrayal.

The writer is a retired lieutenant general and can be contacted at

Courtesy: Daily Times, 8/5/2008

 Posted by at 6:01 am

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