None of our leaders ever earned or merited leadership. PHOTO: REUTERS

A nation in search of a statesman

Are our statesmen in cradle? Or is society barren and unable to produce them?

Tariq T Shah February 21, 2023

The defining quality of a relationship between state and a citizen is trust. The state must earn the trust by being representative, accountable, legitimate and beneficial. If the state is unable to provide services effectively that are measurable by ordinary people and treats populace as subjects rather than as citizens, it cannot lay claim to the loyalty of its citizenry. People do not need convincing of the benefits of the policies; they must see them.

Nations with no culture of participation or that fail to offer its citizens a stake in the system are always plagued by low trust in the leaders and institutions. A state without the privilege of the trust of its citizens cannot survive, let alone prosper. It is a ship without rudder, not knowing where to steer. As stated by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a statesman and stoic philosopher of the ancient Rome,

“If one does not know to which port is one sailing, no wind is favourable.”

Let us reflect on our history.  The British system of governance in colonies was for control and exploitation. It was not for the benefit of the public. It is precisely for this reason, the system was not employed in the countries of the five eyes alliance: United Kingdom, United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.  The British did not judge this system worthy of themselves; “this is not how the English mind works”. Yet, the unfathomable tragedy is why do we have it in Pakistan 75 years after independence. Are we still a colony and a society of the rulers and the ruled?

The British called the Indian subcontinent ‘the jewel in their crown’ because of the wealth of its resources. The perverseness effectiveness of the system for the subcontinent can be measured from the following: the British ‘never had more than 1300 personnel in the Indian Civil Service to rule some 350 million’. The subcontinent’s share of the world economy was around 27 per cent in the beginning of the 1700s. It was meagre three per cent when the British left in 1947. The directors of the East India Company were richer than many kings of Europe, stated the French ambassador of the time in Britain. Yet, the colonizers did not trust the subcontinent or its natives in the matters of sickness or education of their children. And they moved to Europe after retiring.  Do we see any irony in this mindset or anything different today? 

Major General Thomas Munro was famed for the wars against Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan. He was later anointed as the governor of Madras and charged with improving the revenue collection. He explained the purpose and nature of the system of governance as:

“…in pursuing a system, the tendency of which is to lower the character of the whole people.”

The system was neither meant nor will it produce statesmen. It has delivered incorrigibly corrupt and incompetent politicians, who have mired the nation in the morass but are clueless of the remedy.  Our leaders have either inherited leadership or have been shooed-in by the establishment. Alas, none ever earned or merited it.

The colonial system of administration is inherently corrupt. Sir John Hadley D’Oyly was resident of Murshidabad, Bengal. When in 1785 his wife Diana Rochfort got sick, the couple decided to move back to England. One Bob Pott secured his appointment through Lord Chancellor Thurlow for this vacancy. Pott paid D’Oyly (about 30,000 pounds of 1785 money) to retire and leave the post at once. The latter went to England and became member of the British Parliament.

This bestowed colonial system cannot produce statesmen. It was devised and true to its purpose thrives on arbitrary patronage, encourages mercenary mentality of populace and politicians alike. It fosters flattery, impedes listening to conscience or taking moral stands. Loyalty to individuals becomes a necessity and loyalty to the institutions and country of no value. History stands witness; no nation or society ever succeeded when the citizens were treated as subjects by its governing class.

A telling example of the persistent crassness of the system in the Indian subcontinent was laid bare in a story that played out in Thyagraj stadium, New Delhi. The stadium was built with the equivalent of about 840 crores (Pak rupee) as part of the facilities for Commonwealth games of 2010. After the games, the stadium was handed over to elite athletes to prepare for national and international competitions. However, sometime in early May 2022, for undisclosed reasons, the athletes were scooted out of the stadium by early evenings. This naturally led to an uproar (admittedly there would have been no uproar in colonial days).  An investigation by the newspaper, The Indian Express, revealed that empty stadium was required by a high-ranking Delhi bureaucrat and his wife to walk their dog. 

The welfare of the masses was never a concern of the rulers and the money spent on educating the natives of the crown jewel is very revealing. In 1930, William Durant, an American Historian and Philosopher known for “The Story of Civilization”, visited India. He found out that the education budget for the Indian population of over 350 million was less than the half of the education budget for the state of New York with a population of little under seven million.

It is unfortunate that education spending still does not count for much. For a perspective, Sweden spends USD11,700 per pupil while Pakistan spends about $80 per pupil. I will leave to the reader’s imagination to determine how much of this $80 is actually spent on a student.

With an estimated 22.8 million children between the ages of five to 16 not attending school, Pakistan has the world's second-highest number of out-of-school children. These children represent 44 per cent of the total population in this age group, with 58 per cent in Sindh and 78 per cent in Balochistan being girls. The saying goes:

“Educate a man, educate a person, but educate a woman, educate a nation.”

The power to shape the future lies in the hands of those who nurture it, for “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world”.

Today, once again, the nation’s imploring eyes are on the IMF, Arabs, and Chinese. Since independence, we have been to the IMF with a begging bowl about 22 times. On December 10, 2019, Atif Mian in The New York Times reported:

“Last year, the sum of interest payment due on the government’s debt obligations and pension payments were more than the federal government’s net revenue. The entire government machinery, including the military, is running on borrowed money.”

According to the World Energy Council, at present, Pakistan ranks among the lowest (99 out of 110). The recent nation-wide blackout speaks for itself.

From July 2021 to May 2022, Pakistan’s food import bill was reported to be 7.5 billion dollars. We import wheat, lentils, edible oils to name few food products from the long list. So much for being an agriculture country.

Pakistan ranks 129 out of 140 in the 2022 World Justice Project (WJP) rule of law index. However, when it comes to order and security, the ranking drops to abysmal 139 out of 140, only beating Afghanistan.

The nation faces multitude of pressing issues: woeful state of education, an exploding population, a looming water crisis, lamentable health services, distressing law and order situation, runaway inflation, chronically underperforming economy, sorely needed judicial reforms, fuzzy civil-military relationship, etc. I will not take issue with anyone’s pick. However, I hold brain drain to be a matter of gravest concern. It ill behoves for the birth of statesmen, when young talent is fleeing in droves.

‘No nation is poor but only the ones who waste their human capital’.

Tariq T Shah

The writer is a Barrister in Toronto, Canada. 

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


tatvavetta | 1 year ago | Reply

Pakistan needs a leader who accurately finds problem areas and knows the solution. Populist leader might bnot be a right choice. Pakistan has had an Array of leaders till now.

saad Muzaffar | 1 year ago | Reply

Thank you Mr. Shah for a well deserved non biased article. I read it several times each time with deep sadness. I too am a drop in brain drain. I could either stay and be uneducated or put my trust in a foreign nation who gave me opportunities respect and honors.

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