MANY years ago a judge of the Lahore High Court remarked that a nation got the leaders it deserved. More recently Barbara Kellerman, author of a book on bad leaders, has noted that there is no bad leadership without bad ‘followership’. I do not accept these interpretations.
Reasonably intelligent and well-meaning people have occasionally made an error of judgement and elected a wrong person to high office. The election of George W. Bush as president of the United States is a case in point.
Anyone wishing to succeed as a leader should be intelligent, energetic, decisive, determined, an effective communicator and ambitious. He will be reckoned a good leader if he is also willing to practise self-denial and place the public interest above personal and private interests. One may have some of these characteristics (energy, determination, communication skills) and end up as a bad leader if he is rigid, intemperate, callous, corrupt and incompetent.
Before we proceed further a clarification may be in order. Beyond national independence and territorial integrity, specifics of the public interest and the means of achieving it are not always known and settled. Eradication of terrorism is indisputably a part of the public interest in Pakistan but the meaning of terrorism and the identity of terrorists are open to dispute.
The spread of education and health care and the provision of numerous other amenities are doubtless components of the public interest, but the means of delivering them are matters of debate. It is a good leader’s obligation to identify and adopt the best-available version of the public interest, one that is the closest to the aspirations of his people.
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah is the only one in our recent history who possessed all of the aforementioned qualities of a good leader. He is the model for others to follow but we know that none has even approximated his level of attainment. Looking for the more notable leaders after Jinnah, we find that Liaquat Ali Khan was a good public speaker, a reasonably competent administrator and capable of self-denial. But his political judgement and his interpretations of the public interest were not always sound.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was brilliant, a fantastic orator and a very effective mass leader, but he was lusty of personal power, arrogant, impulsive and intolerant of dissidents. Some of his policy choices, expressing his understanding of the public interest, were misconceived and ended up hurting the country. His daughter Benazir was an elegant woman, bright, a good public speaker with excellent rapport with the masses. But as prime minister she turned out to be inefficient as a manager of public affairs.
Let us now look at the knights in shining armour currently doing battle on the ground of Pakistani politics. Mr Nawaz Sharif has a substantial following in Punjab. His communication skills and his posture generally have much improved since 1999 when Gen Musharraf overthrew his government. The forced solitude during his years of exile has given him greater maturity and poise. Ideologically he remains a conservative. His concern for the dictates of political ethics has become firmer. He inspires trust and his popularity has been increasing since his return to Pakistan.
His brother Shahbaz Sharif is believed to be an honest and decent man. He is an effective communicator, exceptionally efficient as an administrator, but said to be ruthless in dealing with officials in his administration who in his judgement stand low on the scale of competence or integrity.
Mr Altaf Hussain, head of the MQM, represents an amazing phenomenon. He is a British citizen who has been living in London for the last 15 years or so. An eloquent public speaker, capable organiser and fund-raiser, he has a huge following among the Urdu-speaking people in Karachi and some of the other towns of Sindh. He is stern with dissidents within his party. His followers may or may not love him but they do hold him in awe, admire him and consider it the better part of wisdom to obey him. He in turn does all he can to advance their interests.
Asif Ali Zardari, who runs the PPP and also the country, is a clever tactician and a good organiser. He has undeservedly inherited some of Benazir Bhutto’s charisma and the PPP elders unquestioningly do his bidding. He subscribes to Machiavelli’s teaching that princes may break the undertakings they have given to other princes. Not surprisingly then he does not inspire trust. His dedication to the public interest appears to be diffused.
Yusuf Raza Gilani, in spite of a long and varied political career, is ineffective as prime minister, wanting in energy, decisiveness, drive for power and competence. He is, however, a good and conscientious parliamentarian. Sherry Rehman is at this time the PPP’s only noteworthy asset: she is remarkably bright, a fine speaker, and an able exponent and defender of her government’s policies and actions. The PPP would be much the poorer without her.
Asfandyar Wali Khan of the ANP is committed to his avowed principles, a man of the people dedicated to Pakhtun causes and interests. He is content with being a regional leader and seems to have no national-level aspirations. Pir Pagara is not much of a politician. His following in Sindh is based on his status as a feudal lord and his claim to divinity.
Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain (PML-Q) is deficient in all categories of evaluation. His influence, such as it is, probably derives more from his wealth than his charm or charisma.
A good people may not be able to make a bad leader good but I believe a good leader can, by the force of his example, contribute to the improvement of his people’s political culture. Are any of our present leaders capable of making such a contribution? Not the ones belonging to the PPP, MQM, PML-Q and PML-F (Pagara). The PML-N did not act as an agent of reform during Mr Nawaz Sharif’s two terms as prime minister.
Some people may regard his sponsorship of a Sharia bill as a reformist measure but that was a kind of reform that a great many people in this country did not want. If my impression is correct that he is a lot more upright now than he was in the 1990s, his virtue may filter down to politicians and civil servants who work with him if he gets to be prime minister again. Whether this will actually happen remains to be seen.
The writer is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics.