Ashraf Jehangir Qazi*
There are just too many myths about being a political leader, especially a people’s leader. One often hears that what Pakistan needs in its present parlous state is above all a people’s leader who will mobilize the masses and resolve the challenges we confront on all sides today. Most of the current “leaders” lay claim to this charismatic status. Some are better than others in building electoral bases and swaying the masses or a segment of them. But in terms of doing anything for the masses almost all of them are already proven failures and proven deceivers.
Even when their intentions are honourable, and this is rarely the case, their presumption exceeds their abilities many times over. They spend their time building their “cult of personality” and trying to maintain “the blind devotion” of their followers, who are induced into emotionally and irrationally linking their hopes and dreams – and indeed their meaning and purpose – with the bogus but carefully concocted image of their leaders. The nature of this linkage appears to rest on a mix of self- delusion and low self-esteem.
In this sense presenting oneself as a people’s leader involves mass deception and fraud – and some of our leaders have been very skilled at enthralling segments of the population. But without exception they bring fascism and tragedy upon their people while they and their families profit in life and in death from deliberate crimes against their people. Behind the heroic public image is always the stench of filthy lucre and low cunning at the cost of destroying opportunities to improve the condition of the impoverished masses. Leadership of this kind is always based on a supreme contempt for the people whose only reason for existence is supposed to be to fanatically support such charlatan leaders no matter how often they betray them.
Only a people induced into viewing themselves with slavish self- contempt can be expected to play such a demeaning role at the expense of the future of their own children. The ability to inculcate such a “jiyala” attitude, which is really a kind of zealous despair, among a hapless people is considered to be an indispensable requirement for political leadership and electoral success. With very few notable exceptions, political parties as well as leaders of all persuasions in Pakistan practice this essential “democratic” skill. Behind the super-heated people-centric rhetoric lies a complete absence of any commitment to the well being of Pakistan which, to have any meaning, must mean the welfare of the Pakistani masses in every part of the country. The very idea of living a life of service and sacrifice for the welfare and happiness of coming generations of Pakistanis is considered to be a “loser’s dream” by such phony leaders.
The exceptions have tended to be ideological, religious, ethnic and even extremist parties and groups. But they have narrow agendas that transcend both popular and national interests. Turmoil and violence, including terror, are often considered vital to the promotion of their agendas. Even though in certain respects they display a far higher degree of political and public morality than establishment parties and institutions they fail to improve the worldly lot of the poor majority of the people. Often wittingly or unwittingly they work hand-in-glove with exploitative establishment institutions at the expense of the people. Religious bigots and zealots have a propensity to degenerate into common criminals.
What about real leaders who really served their people? Leaders like Quaid-e-Azam, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Kemal Ataturk, Mao Tsetung, Chou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Konrad Adenhauer, Ho Chi Minh, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King, Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir Mohammad, Nelson Mandela, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva, Rajab Tayyeb Erdogan, etc. What distinguishes them?
Why can’t they be emulated in Pakistan today? Opinions about them vary. None of them are or were perfect. Many had real shortcomings. They certainly are very different personalities.
Some were saintly and self-effacing. Some were emotional. Others were moderate and modest. Some were vain and saw themselves as gifted and guided. Many hated each other and represented totally different political philosophies. Some were greater than others. Among them were leaders of established states and societies in times of crises such as war. Others were critically important as transition or transformation leaders. Still others led their people through liberation struggles and freedom movements against established imperial and neo-imperialist states, and laid or are trying to lay the basis for national and social transformation.
But they all served a purpose greater than themselves – a purpose rooted in the freedom and welfare of their peoples. In colonized and developing countries their leadership was integrally tied to freedom movements and struggles and to national transformation programs and strategies. They had dreams that were bigger than themselves, but not bigger than their people. They did not abuse the ultimate values of their faith and society to serve their individual or institutional lust for power and privilege. They did not seek to keep their people in ignorance and impotence so as to rule over and exploit them with complete impunity. They did not fear political and legal accountability.
The Quaid was prepared to give up politics rather than compromise his political principles of justice and equity. Neither Lenin nor Mao expected to see success in their lifetime. Chou Enlai never sought the limelight and was content to live in the shadow of the Great Helmsman for the sake of serving China and its masses. When General de Gaulle was asked why he did not arrest the great philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who was the iconic figure for the 1968 student and worker uprisings against his regime he answered “No, he too is France!” When Vajpayee against all expectations lost the 2004 elections he was asked by gloating reporters how he felt in his hour of defeat. He answered, “I may have lost. But India has won.” When Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951 all he left behind was six thousand rupees in his bank account.
Can you even imagine that today? And if there were such a person around what would we think of him? An aaloo (a vegetable)! A real dimwit! Unfit for political leadership! Couldn’t win an election! What does that say about us? It says a lot about the quality of our democracy and current leaders who receive paeans of praise and ringing endorsements from foreign patrons whose wellbeing they serve instead of their own people.
Anyone who sees and projects himself as the embodiment and condition of the people’s aspirations, as indispensable to the forward movement of his nation’s development, or as the best of a lousy set of choices, and, finally, as above any need for a systematic process of popular consultations and legal and political accountability, is no leader at all. He may thrill for a while. But he will inevitably do real damage to his own people and country. Similarly, usurping generals who find reason to extend their writ beyond the implementation of approved defence policies are not even military leaders, leave alone national or people’s leaders. In fact they often fear and loathe any form of people power or civilian authority as “destabilizing” or “incompetent” or even “un-Islamic.”
It may be asked was not Ataturk a military leader? The answer is that he was far more than that. If there was no Ataturk there would have been no Turkey today, a Turkey that commands respect in both the Islamic and western world for its political and economic achievements and, above all, for positively transforming the quality of life for its citizens. What have our military leaders achieved by comparison? The question answers itself.
The leadership provided by Mussolini and Hitler are instructive. They embodied the fury and frustration as well as the sense of weakness and betrayal of their respective peoples. This was compounded by mass privation as a result of unbearable inflation and unemployment scenarios that could yet materialize in Pakistan in the aftermath of the floods. These populist leaders dangled easy answers through hatred, violence and persecution against designated enemies and traitors, and through war in the name of patriotism, destiny and racial superiority.
They stormed to political victories on the desperate expectations of their people and led them to catastrophic moral and military disaster. What has been the record of our political leadership, whether civilian or military? Has it been closer to the Ataturk model or the Mussolini model? The question answers itself.
True leadership consists in awakening the people to their potential and making them aware that there are real solutions to the real suffering they face every day of their lives and that they are the real source of such solutions. In the circumstances of Pakistan such leadership can only come from a burning desire to serve the people by helping them launch organized and robust if essentially peaceful movements at all levels of society and in all areas of the country. Leaders who wish to serve the people must help these movements coalesce into a powerful participatory national movement on behalf of programs that the people have identified, prioritized and agreed upon in a sustained, inclusive, extensive and intensive discussion process. Fortunately, there are individuals whose passions are informed by such qualities of true leadership – and in the aftermath of the floods the people of Pakistan are beginning to identify those worthy of their trust.
A people’s leadership will place priority on the cultivation and emergence of a culture of consultation, compromise and participation. It will encourage the development of a mind-set that comprehends the abiding relevance of Islamic values in an interdependent and ever evolving science and technology-based world beset by common global challenges. A people’s leadership will require all kinds of assistance and expertise. It has to be a leadership of service, of shared objectives and mutual learning, of articulation and communication, of advocacy and messaging, of cooperation and coordinating people’s activities, of resolving people’s issues in a humanitarian and human rights context, and of providing an environment conducive to realizing the range of human potential. This is a heroic moral undertaking that represents Jihad fi Sabeelillah in its truest sense. Accordingly, it cannot be launched from the apex of an existing and corrupt power structure. It can only be effectively launched at grass roots levels even if it is initiated by educated and dedicated people from middle class backgrounds.
In fact real leaders are activists, role models and participants. They include people with ideas, talents and commitment as well as those who organize forums for discussions at several levels. They need to be wholly embedded in a movement dedicated to goals rooted in the interests of the people. Such leadership by definition cannot be that of an individual although dedicated and gifted individuals can make seminal contributions. If instead a movement is seen as the emanation of a self- centered vision of a wannabe maximal leader, however charismatic and brilliant, it will either fail to get off the ground, or if it does, its flight path will be short and its legacy will be tragic.
The Quaid’s leadership was embedded in the Pakistan Movement which emanated from the historical experience of the Muslims in India, especially after 1857. There were strengths and weaknesses in the movement and the Quaid kept his options open till the very last moment in the service of the Muslim community. In response to circumstances largely determined by the leadership of the majority community he evolved from being the Ambassador of Unity, to a champion of two nations within a united India to the founder of the state of Pakistan. But at all times he was guided by the interests of the people he served and by the principles of the rule of law founded upon the human and political rights of the people.
The tragedy of Pakistan is that there was no true successor to the Quaid. The country was taken over by those who had no loyalty to him or his vision for Pakistan. What was his vision? In his own words “if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in cooperation… in a spirit that everyone of you…is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges and obligations there will be no end to the progress you will make…I am sure that with your cooperation and support I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world.” Those who began to take over the reins of power after the Quaid had little time for such a vision and many of them had either opposed the creation of Pakistan or took no part in the Pakistan Movement. They now emerged as the custodians of its alleged ideology an ideology the Quaid was opposed to all his life.
The Muslim League and its several illegitimate offspring never developed into a people’s party. There were of course local and regional leaders of great merit. But they consistently found themselves opposed and denounced as traitors by a national establishment and leadership that represented parochial and class interests dressed up in patriotic and religious ideology. The development state gave way to the security state which meant neither security nor development for the people. The military establishment first encroached upon and then occupied the space of civilian political leadership – allowing no opportunity for democratic governance or a people’s leadership to develop. National interests and ideology were viewed from a military perspective. The military allied itself with other nationally non-electable and protected constituencies such as the ulema, the feudals, the business and commercial elite, the senior bureaucracy, compliant regional and ethnic notables, etc.
Within these restrictive and corrosive political parameters, limited and non-sustainable economic progress was at times made – which in retrospect is sometimes recalled as some kind of a golden age or decade of reforms. But it sowed the seeds of alienation and secession and led to an unnecessary and ill-planned war with India in 1965. Ultimately, it led to military defeat and disgrace, moral disaster, international humiliation and the loss of the country’s eastern wing with more than half of its population in 1971. The betrayal of the Pakistan Movement and the vision of the Quaid was complete. It was perpetrated by those who never subscribed to them. They continued their betrayal in what was left of Pakistan to ensure that we would learn nothing from our traumatic experience.
One of our most distinguished Foreign Ministers referred to this in Sartrean terms as “the iron in the soul of the army” which to this day holds the country to ransom. As a result, we have become proof against any shame, any humiliation, any disgrace and any resolve to do anything about our degraded reality. The real threats to our national existence or, even worse, in the words of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the threat of our situation remaining as it is, all come from within. They come from being almost the very worst governed country of the world. This is shown every day by the antics, buffoonery and villainy of our leaders; the unimaginable depths of corruption recorded by Transparency International; the disgusting irrelevance of our “democratic” politics at a time of national calamity and crisis; the near total inability of the police and security forces to provide citizens any kind of security or solve any crime; the post-flood prospect of food shortages, millions without shelter, land grabbing, inflation, stagnant growth, unemployment, an explosion of crime and extremist violence, and even the doings of our cricketers at a time when our people are in need of some sort of solace.
The tragedy is that most of those in influential quarters are not in the least bothered by this state of affairs. The story of Balochistan is testimony to this fact. The betrayal of Kashmir is testimony to this fact. The stupidity of Kargil within less than a year of going nuclear is testimony to this fact. The paralysis of our foreign policy – no fault of the foreign ministry – is testimony of this fact. Continued dependence on IMF and western economic assistance to meet the basic needs of our people is testimony to this fact. The alienation of the Afghan people after their liberation from Soviet occupation is testimony to this fact. The utter ruin of our education and health systems is testimony to this fact. The reign of religious extremists and foreign neo-colonial “friends” is testimony to this fact. The Pakistan of today – regarded by many as the world’s most prominent failing state – is testimony to this fact. Finally, the moral passivity and witty cynicism of the comfortable and educated classes are testimony to this fact. It has been well said that a nation of sheep begets a government of wolves.
The only people who seem to care for Pakistan are those without power or influence. Empowering them must therefore be the goal of a new Pakistan movement to revive the Quaid’s vision in the service of the people, and especially the masses and the poor. What policies should flow from such a movement? There are thousands but broadly they should comprise:
– Overcoming the disastrous consequences of the floods through the mobilization of communities on a self-help and partnership basis.
– Integrating flood relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development activities into transformation strategies discussed and approved by the people for the whole country.
– Prioritizing transformation imperatives over narrowly conceived security requirements while not neglecting the defence of the country.
– Recognizing that for smaller countries matching the defence capabilities of larger neighbours is not an efficient security strategy, and that security embraces a far wider range of issues than the domain of the military establishment.
– Ascertaining the priorities of the masses and the poor which with local variations are likely to be human security; protection of rights including those of women and children; protection of livelihoods through creation of job opportunities, use of local materials and entrepreneurship, documentation of properties, vocational training, banking and micro-finance facilities, etc; the provision of basic services like essential physical and institutional infrastructure, health, sanitation, the rule of law and access to justice, food security, religious, secular and scientific education as a composite whole, sports and recreational facilities including cultural facilities such as music and art based on local and other traditions, the use of information technology to upgrade education and awareness for all age groups including for those hitherto denied educational and literacy opportunities; capable, responsive, representative and honest local administrative structures, etc.
– Finding the resources to meet these priorities will have to become the primary call on national and provincial budgets. At present military, administrative and debt servicing expenditures leave practically nothing for these priorities. This fact measures the degree to which the current power structure and its priorities are anti-people, and are premised on the containment and docile submission of the people.
– Widening the tax base and increasing state and provincial revenues, reducing the military budget, implementing wide- ranging civil administration reform and re-scheduling and reducing the external debt burden will need to become priorities.
– Mobilizing domestic and foreign investment resources to maximize the quality and quantity of economic growth in order to create an environment in which the implementation of transformative development and security imperatives becomes possible on a mutually compatible basis, with the informed support and participation of the people of Pakistan.
– Giving critical priority to the difficult and painful task of redressing grievances and deprivations, including sustained human rights violations, of regional, ethnic and religious minorities. This is a precondition for internal stability, genuine national unity and the achievement of transformative goals. Any obstruction of such justice and reconciliation strategies must be regarded as completely unacceptable and treated with zero tolerance. If this is not considered possible today it must become possible as soon as possible for Pakistan to endure.
– Promoting in each province and region a minimum of knowledge about the culture and languages of the other main regions and ethnic groups of Pakistan, as a priority component of a nation building strategy.
– Ensuring that constitutionally authorized security forces have a monopoly on the use of force and that private militias, lashkars, gangs, etc. are progressively and rapidly disarmed and dismantled and reintegrated into society. This will be possible only through political reconciliation, economic development and enhancing the capabilities of security forces that have the trust of citizens in areas where they operate.
– Recognizing that Pakistan’s war against domestic extremism, violence and terror has to be a function of coherent, credible and acceptable governance, and in order to be effective and considered legitimate, it should not be part of any other country’s so-called global war against terrorism, which in fact has generated far more terror and tragedy against innocent people around the world – and in the case of Pakistan, has been a major cause of internal instability.
– Recognizing that rapid and equitable growth and national transformation strategies require a peaceful, cooperative and enabling neighbourhood. Accordingly, policies towards India, a Kashmir settlement, Afghanistan and other neighbours, major powers, nuclear issues, etc. need to be pursued in a manner consistent with international legal principles and obligations, the requirements of national independence and sovereignty, and national transformation imperatives. This requires a modus vivendi and increasing cooperation with all our neighbours. These policy areas, accordingly, cannot remain the preserve of unaccountable institutions without making a mockery of our transformation priorities.
– None of the above requires or justifies unprincipled compromises at the expense of the rights of other people such as the Kashmiris or indeed the people of any region of Pakistan. Nor do they permit strategies that increase the sufferings of Kashmiris, Afghans and, of course, of any region, class or segment of the population of Pakistan. Within this framework, the elaboration of our specific external and security policies must be a priority undertaking in which the inputs of our security establishment will be vitally important.
Each one of the above suggestions will, of course, be altered in the light of sustained nation-wide discussions and the experience and lessons of implementation processes. The skills to participate in such a transformation process are not demanding. They require commitment, stamina, a sense of reality and possibility, a willingness to communicate and compromise, a profound respect for the people of Pakistan and a driving faith in the success of the whole effort. Many people may no longer have the inclination to believe in a decent future for Pakistan, except as hope and prayer. They will need to be convinced that God only helps those who help themselves – and when that happens, a universe of opportunity opens up.
There is plenty of inspiringly good work going on in Pakistan in the urban and rural areas at the grass roots and other levels. These need to be integrated and upgraded as part of a transformation movement. The tragic floods could be a watershed development in providing the motivation and opportunity for such Pakistan-reviving work. There are obstacles. There are classes and power structures that have been obstructive. There is a legacy that has to be overcome. But no one repeat no one should be regarded as an enemy even though many have much to answer for. There is room in Pakistan for everyone who is willing to cooperate in responding to opportunities that beckon to us. There are impressive individuals with impressive records of service to the people who burn with the passion of seeing the Quaid’s vision for Pakistan realized, and who are actively engaged in trying to make that happen. They have demonstrated their ardour and determination to do all they can – and they have already accomplished a great deal – in response to the floods. They are, of course, laughed at and written off as Sir Galahads by cynics, skeptics and pessimists and, not surprisingly, by those who fear their potential to serve the people of Pakistan.
But those who persist in the noble and urgent endeavour of serving the people will and must prevail along with them. This much is certain because there is no alternative.