Enduring leadership crisis

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The recent lawyers’ movement has revived our dead spirits and injected a new enthusiasm about claiming our country back from the syndicate of military rulers and feudal patriarchs. This is perhaps the beginning of a new and long struggle towards our constitutionalist destiny As I reflect on the sixtieth independence day of our country, political failures, stubborn crises, violent conflicts, and confrontations crowed out all our achievements and successes in thoughts. However, like many other societies, we also carry with us a mixed bag of successes and disappointments, and it is not difficult to put them on a scale of history and find out which weighs heavier. Sixty years is mature age in a nation’s life; it is also time to both celebrate the spirit, the struggle, and the vision of our founding fathers, and also pause to examine the wrongs we have committed and that have sapped our energies, crippled our will and ruined our dreams. As a people, a composite nation of many ethnic hues with overlapping bonds of history, culture and political destiny, we are as good or bad as any other human society. There is nothing that we lack in our national character and there’s nothing we cannot do as a human collective. It is truly absurd to formulate a caste hierarchy of nations and assign special qualities and characters to each, as some of the colonists and racist figures did. In my opinion, the social environment and living conditions at a particular point in time determine how individuals and peoples collectively behave. If we accept racial and ethnic profiling, then those who were relegated to the lower rungs of caste or social ladder would have remained fixed in their imagined places. It is evident to all of us how the instruments of modern education, science and industry have broken all old myths about different social groups and peoples. The vast history of the modern world and the travails and triumphs of contemporary nations offer us a great laboratory to look for the elements that are vital to bringing about social change, progress, material wellbeing and happiness in the society. Becoming a modern man or person is a complex process, but what creates the dynamics of change are not only individual motivations and ambitions but the leadership of a society, which plays a crucial role in articulating common ideals, using social energies and setting a vision that a society would pursue. Many persons in individual capacity, even in very adverse circumstances can succeed. But nations need leadership, institutions, laws and freedoms to pursue public goods. Thinking about our political failures and modest achievements in economic, cultural and social fields, I cannot escape considering the poor quality of our leadership. There is a general feeling that we have never had the political leadership in the image of many of our great founding fathers from Sir Syed Ahmad Khan to Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. They were visionaries, had great concern for the future of our communities and had modern ideas about education, law, governance and human relations. Pakistan was the dream of modernist Muslims who wanted to establish a modern Muslim nation-state and accepted modernity as a common human gift, an ideal for all religious and cultural groups to pursue. We have unfortunately lost that vision and have deviated from what they struggled and stood for. Why is it that we have not been able to cultivate leadership with the same degree of commitment and motivation to serve the public with a sense of duty and integrity? We may find an answer in the social structure of our dominant elite class and repeated military interventions in politics. Incidentally, military leaders who captured power and ruled the country collectively for about three decades or for half of the period of our creation as a new nation-state, considered themselves as superior leaders, posturing as messiahs who knew how to command, control and develop Pakistan. Stability was their major concern, not institution building, which includes patterns of leadership recruitment, socialisation of new leaders and their grooming — all factors essential to effective governance. Tenuously perched and lacking legitimacy, military leaders have tended to monopolise power, oppress political dissent and control political mobilisation in varying degrees. All the personalised military regimes in Pakistan’s history ended without any peaceful, orderly and institutionalised transfer of power, plunging the country into a political crisis. These regimes neither groomed alternative political leadership, nor planned any transition. If we compare military rules with civilian governments, they do not really fare any better on any index of good governance. The entire political community continues to wonder if they were better in providing clean and honest governance. More importantly, did they follow the vision and ideology of our founders? Have they ever honestly attempted to understand what really the ideology of the founder of our nation is? Nothing can be more offensive to the political creed of the father of the nation than dictatorial regimes and such leaders parading themselves as enlightened, moderate and modern. Mr Jinnah was a true constitutionalist, political-liberal who believed and worked hard for rule of law and rights of communities and individuals. Equality in terms of rights and privileges among all citizens and keeping religion separate from public life is yet another theme in the political and social thought of Jinnah. How close the military and other regimes have been to Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan? The answer is only too obvious. On the other end of the political spectrum we have dynastic leaders from dominant castes, tribes, religious and other social classes who claim political roles because of primordial relationships rather than personal achievements. During the past sixty years we have seen the same families and their descendants dominate the leadership positions, as if they are sacred figures and have a heavenly right to rule because of family pedigree. This kind of leadership in any society would be retrogressive, backward in its social outlook, and mainly concerned with defending and preserving the status quo. This class of leadership in our vast tribal and rural periphery has deliberately impeded our social development — but it has remained unchallenged. All our military regimes have co-opted traditional leaders for political legitimacy. In return the military granted them local authority and influence, and that is the reason why alternative leadership has not emerged. This also explains why even during our brief periods of democratic rule our political system manifested a settlement among elites more than popular sovereignty. Sixty years are enough to prove the point that the happy marriage of convenience between the military and the feudal classes has not advanced our ideals or realised our popular dream. The alternative leadership with a modernist vision would come from our middle classes. The recent lawyers’ movement has revived our dead spirits and injected a new enthusiasm about claiming our country back from the syndicate of military rulers and feudal patriarchs. We have witnessed world-class leadership qualities, charisma, intellect and articulation of constitutionalism as our ideal. This is perhaps the beginning of a new and long struggle towards our constitutionalist destiny. It would, by strengthening the democratic process, facilitate the transition to good leadership. The author is a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.