In 1853, 64 years after George Washington took oath as the first president of the United States, Franklin Pierce held that position. To this day, Pierce is considered a terribly weak and divisive president in America. Four years later, Millard Fillmore began another forgettable presidency. By that time, the US was seemingly teetering on an edge, bracing itself for a gory civil war. The country was on the brink of disaster, tearing at the seams and cracking in the centre. But the electoral process continued, the people voted for new presidents in search of a leader. Then, in 1860, a lawyer from humble beginnings began campaigning for president, using his antipathy for slavery as a cornerstone for the campaign. Abraham Lincoln took a bold step in his campaign and the people responded by electing him to office and he saved their country. He became the leader the people of the United States were looking for in the mid-nineteenth century. With the successive elections of Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore and James Buchanan, the electoral system failed the US three times, but it helped keep the country intact the fourth time around.
The greatest tragedy of Pakistan is that we are a country and a people without a true leader. Our country has problems, but none that are unsolvable. A lack of leadership is the core problem. With able leadership, there is nothing we cannot confront. So let the democratic process continue, treating it like the self-correcting mechanism it is, and our leader will arrive.
Our leader will be strong-willed and will not be afraid to tell right from wrong. Honesty will be valued and a passion for change will be espoused. Compassion will be displayed. Inspiration will surround the country. Our leader will not be a Punjabi or a Pathan, not a Sindhi or a Baloch, but a Pakistani. Justice will be encouraged, not discouraged. Infrastructure will be built; systems will be put in place and merit will be valued. Pakistanis around the country will be put to work and investment will be facilitated. Pakistan will be pushed to its full potential. Our leader is not a figment of our imagination; our leader will be a reality.
This op-ed is not about the wait for a messiah, or a saviour. Before we complain about the dearth of leadership in Pakistan, we need to ensure we are doing whatever we can, to bring this leader to the fore. We have to look inward, before we look outward. Through his work, Allama Iqbal focused on the philosophy of khudi. He emphasised self-discovery, self-realisation and self-knowledge. Discover yourself. Realise your potential. Know that there are no boundaries to your growth. In Jawaab-e-Shikwa, Iqbal writes, “Thay to aaba wo tumharay hi magar tum kiya ho/Hath par hath dharay muntazir-i farda ho”.
As a society, we have faults. As individuals, none of us are perfect. But, if each one of us strives to correct our faults and if we personally champion the qualities we want our leader to have, societal leadership is inevitable. Instead of waiting, act. Become that leader. If the entire country espouses the values of the leader we claim to be searching for, there is no way that leader will not arrive. Don’t wait for the messiah, be the messiah.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.