Pakistan: Presidential election or selection?

Ikram Sehgal

According to the schedule announced by the Election Commission the election of a new president will take place on Sept 6. Direct elections would have been far better. The imperfect indirect process really does not reflect the combined will of the people. Both in the presidential form of government where the office is all-powerful or the parliamentary form where he (or she) is a figurehead, the attributes and behaviour of the symbol of the federation is critical for its health. The person has to be non-controversial, someone of national stature commanding respect among the peoples of all the provinces. The head of state should preferably be a non-party person, from a small party and/or not a party activist, and belonging preferably to one of the smaller provinces—i.e., the NWFP or Balochistan.

The “Reflections” Section of Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s recently launched book My Political Struggle highlights the key factors of personality and behaviour that are vital for aspiring leaders of a country. According to this “Primer,” a suitable presidential candidate must have character and integrity. “If the values the founder of Pakistan had given were to be summed up in one word, it would be honesty.” One may add that honest leaders are an endangered species, almost extinct. There is nothing more important than a leader standing the test of accountability. Aspiring leaders must have at least some of the Quaid’s values. Asghar Khan holds that “a real leader is a man of integrity. Integrity has many connotations, but taken in a broad sense it means reliability.”

About leadership, he says that a leader should have a quality “which inspires others to follow. A leader of men is one towards whom others turn in difficulty and from whom they expect guidance and direction. This quality is important for a nation in peace as well as in war, but whereas its absence in peace may cause inefficiency and social or economic decay, its absence in war will almost certainly spell disaster.”

Even though he left the superior judiciary and the military out of its ambit, Musharraf’s finest initiative, other than empowerment of women, was accountability, compromised later at the altar of convenience in trying to ensure his own longevity. Many in his successive cabinets faced charges of nepotism and corruption, accountability being used to blackmail them into loyalty. Asghar Khan says “It is among the relatively well-to-do people that corruption is more prevalent, where morality is at a low ebb, and where integrity is generally lacking. It is amongst the poorer sections of our society that a greater sense of honesty and integrity is to be found. Greed is today perhaps the most dominant characteristic in the more sophisticated elements of our society. When greed crosses reasonable limits, integrity goes by the board.” About “courage” he says: “courage can be moral and/or physical, preferably both, it is admired by all human beings in varying degrees and both have a relationship with integrity. Only a man of integrity will show moral courage, physical courage is usually to be found among people who cherish principles of behaviour born of a sense of integrity.” He adds: “good social conduct has an important bearing on the acceptability of a leader.”

The choice of aides really matter. The Air Marshal notes: “Of all the qualities of a leader, perhaps the most important for success is the ability to choose, developed largely by observing a high standard of moral and intellectual discipline. A talented person, a man of virtue and a man of ability and knowledge, will generally choose subordinates who posses in some degree the qualities that he himself values, whereas an incompetent person, or one devoid of integrity will generally surround himself with people who are equally incompetent or dishonest.” Does that sound eerily familiar? The former PAF chief says decision power is important, “Since a leader must lead there is nothing as frustrating, to those who expect to be led, as indecisiveness. The greater the sphere of influence or authority, the greater the need for this important quality.”

Asghar Khan’s life is exemplary, ideal presidential material. As a young Squadron Leader in 1942 he chose, at the risk of court martial, not to attack a Hur convoy. He honed the PAF into a lean, mean fighting machine that did us proud during the 1965 war, albeit under the war leadership of Air Marshal Nur Khan. Asghar Khan led the campaign in the streets to get the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto out of Ayub’s jail in 1968. Tehrik-e-Istiqlal, the political party he founded in 1972, was ideal training ground for many of today’s leaders. These include Mian Nawaz Sharif, Aitzaz Ahsan and Javed Hashmi. The only leader to speak out in 1971 against the atrocities being inflicted on our own people in East Pakistan, it is a national tragedy that his outstanding merit, integrity and national service have no place before money and its influence. There is an age-old adage, people get the leaders they deserve.

Another candidate could be Air Marshal Nur Khan. Outstanding as a war leader, he was one of the best governors of West Pakistan. Indeed, why not Sartaj Aziz the PML-N loyalist Mian Sahib ignored in nominating Rafiq Tarar literally out of the blue in 1998? What about Lt Gen Quli Khan Khattak, a battle-tested soldier who should deservedly have been the COAS Mian Nawaz Sharif chose not to make, with disastrous consequences for himself, and as Mian Sahib now holds, for the country? After retirement Lt Gen Ali Quli Khan has excelled in business and industry, and is universally liked. What about Sher Sherbaz Khan Mazari or Illahi Bakhsh Soomro, political sons from Sindh’s soil who have always done Pakistani politics proud through their inherent integrity and decency? Or someone from the superior judiciary, outstanding judges Fakhruddin Ebrahim or Nasir Aslam Zahid? I would put my money on Iftikhar Chaudhry, that should appease the activists and (conveniently) take him off the Bench to prevent him from having go at the NRO. And Zulfikar Khan Magsi, who recently resigned as governor of Balochistan, a popular Baloch leader with strong Pakistani credentials? Can the PPP forget Nasirullah Khan Babar even as he fights for his life in hospital having had a stroke? And if a woman, what about our diehard dyed-in-the-wool democrat, the PPP’s Abida Hussain? One could go on and name many others, deserving sons (and daughters) of Pakistan who would make honourable Presidents.

While day-to-day governance must remain the prerogative of those elected by the people, their responsibility is to give us a president who inculcates most of the aforementioned human factors, the choice must cross party lines. The political parties must necessarily assuage the Army’s fears and preferences as to the suitability of any candidate. Their constitutional obligations notwithstanding, the uniformed ones have a national obligation to ensure the sanctity of the Presidential Office. Please do not gamble with the nation’s destiny out of a misplaced sense of constitutional duty! The president of Pakistan must not only make us proud but of whom we must be proud of.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:

Source: The News, 25/8/2008

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