Pakistan News Service

Monday Mar 4, 2024, Shaban 23, 1445 Hijri

Leadership in Pakistan

13 May, 2008

By Dr. Ghayur Ayub

I remember reading somewhere that once, a politician, asked Mohammad Ali Jinnah how flexible could he be on his demand for Pakistan? He put his hand in his pocket, took out a handkerchief, unfolded it and spread it on the table. Then he looked into the eyes of the inquirer and uttered with absolute commitment that he would go for a Pakistan even if it was just the size of that handkerchief. He stressed that Pakistan was the need of Muslims in India irrespective of how big or how small it may be. This was a pledge of a person who is known to be the statesman in the history of the subcontinent. If he had acted like a politician in those uncertain days of multitude pressures; there would be no Pakistan today.  Pakistan came into existence in the most illogical manner by a person who was labeled as ‘Kafir’ by many. He even couldn’t speak the language of the country that he was fighting for. So what was it about him that attracted Muslims from all walks of life; be it the illiterate tribesmen from Parachinar or the educated elite of Karachi? It was his statesmanship, leadership and commitment to his cause which made him popular among the masses.


Let us put some light on these qualities and see if we can find them in the present leaders of Pakistan. According to the general perception, a statesman is usually a politician or other notable figure of a state that has had a long and respected career in politics at national and international level. It is usually left to supporters or commentators to use the term as a sign of respect. That is why when a politician retires; he is often referred to as an elder statesman by his supporters. Aristotle talked about a statement differently. He said, "What the statesman is most anxious to produce is a certain moral character in his fellow citizens, namely a disposition to virtue and the performance of virtuous actions." While Harry S. Truman called a statesman, a politician who's been dead for 15 years. According to Henry Kissinger a statesman bridges the gap between experience and vision.


As for the leadership; there are about 10 types of leaderships from the laissez-faire leader (“leave it be”) to the environment leader (“fasli batair”). It extends even to the primates. Chimpanzees share a similar tendency with humans in behaviors such as violence, territoriality, and competition. Like most humans, they unite behind one male chief of the land. Similarly, many animals beyond apes are territorial and have a social structure controlled by a dominant male. As opposed to this; Bonobos, the second-closest species-relatives of man, do not unite behind the male chief. They lean on a top-ranking female for leadership. Thus, if leadership amounts to getting the greatest number of followers, then among the Bonobos, a female almost always exerts the strongest and most effective leadership. Some have argued that, this inverted pattern in behavior has created genetic gender bias in human, seen against women having leadership as a position of authority in most cultures in the world. This trend changed as late as in 20th century, when we saw females becoming leaders in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Sweden, Andorra, Israel, and Sierra Leone. Pakistan became unique that in spite of opposition from strong clergy the public accepted Benazir Bhutto as their leader.


According to Thomas Carlyle, leadership emerges when an entity as "leader" contrives to receive deference from other entities who become "followers". The process of getting deference can become competitive in that the emerging "leader" draws "followers" from the factions of the prior or alternative "leaders". He further says that in the majority of cases the traditional closed groups rely on bloodlines or seniority to select leaders and leadership candidates. We have been seeing this pattern in the political history of Pakistan where Beradri system and familial leanings have become part of politics.  


As opposed to this, in the course of the 18th and 20th centuries, several political operators took non-traditional paths to become dominant in their societies. They often expressed a belief in strong individual leadership. To expand it further James Macgregor Burns introduced a normative element that a leader will unite followers in a shared vision that will improve a society at large. He said, a real leadership was the one that delivered true value, integrity, and trust, distinguishing it from a leadership that builds power by doing whatever will get more followers. Musharaf can be bracketed in the latter group. He can take a lesson from Nyerere of Tanzania, whose policies failed like his, but he was big enough to know that the presidency in itself did not make him who he was. He walked away from his presidency and retired to sit under the trees in his Shamba and enjoyed family life. He knew that the most powerful thing he could do was to give up power. Instead, Musharaf is following Kenyatta of Kenya, who stayed in the office knowing that he was no longer the power he used to be. We all know what happened to him in the end.


Burns suggested that the people "leaders" must communicate their vision to their "followers" in such a way that the followers adopt the vision as their own. Such leaders must not just see the vision themselves; they must have the ability to get others to see it also. We see Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto coming pretty close to this concept. Opposing this theory, Stacey (1992) suggested that the emphasis on vision puts an unrealistic burden on the leader. Also, it perpetuates a myth that people must depend on a single, uncommonly talented individual to decide what to do producing a culture of dependency and conformity in which followers take no pro-active incentives and do not think independently thus creating a vacuum of leadership; blame usually points at Jinnah in this regards.


Some leaders build coalitions and alliances binding political parties around such leaderships as presently seen between Zardari and Nawaz. Others depend on rapport with the masses standing in the front-line of offence battling for their cause. Imran Khan, (he is known to be dictatorial in running his party; that’s why he lost more members than any other) or Javed Hashmi (he is gradually shifting away from his traditional style of party discipline) or Aithezaz Ahsan (he is riding two horses running in opposite directions) or Qazi Hussan Ahmad (he is known for giving unfulfilled threats to governments) can be counted in this fold.


Then, there is a question of commitment. We hardly see a politician in Pakistan who doesn’t boast to be committed to his cause. The question is; are they really committed to what they say? If one wants to see how commitment is practiced in the field, he should see a shepherd’s dog running tirelessly to control a herd of sheep to the command of a whistle which the master can’t even hear. That is the type of commitment which should be adhered to. Khakum ba Dahan (sorry I don’t know the English word for it), I am not trying to compare the two species, but I have seen many politicians nodding their heads in obedience and making promises when their leaders speak to them. Later, I hardly saw them in the field keeping true to their promises. I remember Nawaz Sharif once jokingly saying that his colleagues persuaded him to move forward on an issue and when he did; he found himself all alone as he turned his head back to see how many were following him. True commitment shines people like polish shines shoes.


In my opinion, a leader with statesmanship is like a rock which doesn’t collapse under pressure while a politician is like a balloon which collapses at one end popping up from another end, changing his positions on important issues. Most of the leaders in Pakistan belong to the latter breed. I believe, a true leader is a person who has philosophical foresight, spiritual insight and determination of a rock. He knows his goal, the paths which lead to that goal and the hurdles which are laid by his opponents to stop him reaching there. He struggles tirelessly with sheer determination to overcome the hurdles and reach the goal. How many political leaders do we see in Pakistan that fit this definition? Your guess is as good as mine. All I can say is, barring one or two; we see them as half-empty glasses claiming to be half-filled. Some even pose to be philosophers with spiritual-looking grin on their faces. What a shame.




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