Character — a fundamental functional requirement

If leaders come to power through unfair means then they will pursue national and foreign policies that serve them

Talat Masood October 05, 2022
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Probably we fail to realise that honesty and integrity is a functional requirement of a society and a nation. Apart from that, every religion and social norms lay the highest emphasis on it and as a Muslim majority country we have a special responsibility. More significantly, only those countries have achieved political stability and economic progress and moved ahead who were led by honest and dedicated leaders. South Africa turned the corner when the first black leader as upright and farsighted as Nelson Mandela became the Prime Minister. The fortunes of the people changed dramatically when a scrupulously honest leader Lee Kuan Yew took charge as prime minister of Singapore in 1959. We do not have to look outside for role models. It was the selfless and inspiring leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah that led to the creation of Pakistan which has few parallels in history.

Ever since the death of the Quaid and soon after the blatant murder of Liaqat Ali Khan, Pakistan has been starved of good leadership. Not that one expects such leaders to be born in normal times or that the present society is capable of throwing up leaders of that caliber, but certainly more responsible and dedicated that care for the masses. What is worse, truth and fair play is fast becoming a rare phenomenon. The vilest aspect of it is that the leadership of government and opposition is deliberately fabricating facts to let down their opponents by deceiving the public for either attaining or retaining power. By this fraudulent power play they would be eventually destroying their credibility with the broad masses, lowering the country’s image abroad and pushing the country further toward anarchy; and not realising that no enemy could inflict as much harm on the country as they are doing.

If leaders come to power through unfair means then they will pursue national and foreign policies that serve their ends rather than of the masses and the country. So, it is so critical to ensure and preserve the integrity of democratic institutions. No one expects that the situation in Pakistan will change overnight and we will be capable of overcoming our weaknesses. But at least there has to be a realisation among the leadership how much we have drifted from the path of sanity and this dangerous and suicidal political power play has to stop.

Leadership of state institutions too need to do serious introspection. This applies as much to the bureaucracy and judiciary as it is to the military. Politicians have used the military to leverage their power and army leadership has grossly interfered in politics, even seizing power four times spanning nearly half the life of the country. Senior bureaucrats are generally identified as pro one party or the other. Mass displacement of bureaucrats takes place as soon as the government changes, although as individuals and as an institution they are supposed to be apolitical. This unethical and unprofessional trend has gradually crept in since the early sixties for which military, political leadership and bureaucrats are as much to blame. Any bureaucrat who takes a principled stand is left with an option either to resign or get relegated to the sidelines.

There was a time when Pakistan was known for having the most competent judiciary, bureaucracy, police and other services and names of Justices Cornelius, Durab Patel, Muhammad Haleem and many others come to mind. Foreign and administrative service stalwarts like Sahabzada Yaqoob, Agha Shahi, Sartaj Aziz and several others were held in high esteem in the country and by the international community. Not that we do not have officers of great caliber any more in service but the environment and the appreciation is lacking. There are few politicians who expect bureaucrats to serve them and promote their interests as opposed to that of the state. The military too will have to stay away from politics so that politics and democracy can evolve naturally and power will reside in parliament and not elsewhere. Huge public gatherings as power shows may serve personal ego and promote political ambitions but are no substitute of parliament and other institutions of democracy. Showing contempt for political opponents and degrading them in the eyes of the public has serious consequences. For curbing corruption, we have to strengthen the judicial system and other anti-corruption institutions. Merely trading or hurling accusations weakens the state and undermines morale. There is a long-term effect of whittling down opponents and it applies to PML-N, the party in power, and PTI equally. Ironically, none of the political party leadership battling for power can claim to be virtuous. And recent revelations have reinforced this assessment. But if they can keep a check on each other and the institutions are allowed to perform we can be a better functioning state.

We need to bear in mind while assessing the present situation in Pakistan that there is a general retreat of democracy at the global level. As investigations into the January 2021 Capitol Hill insurrections reveal, former President Donald Trump nearly succeeded in overturning its democratic system. The US, considered as the bastion of democracy and characterised for its smooth transfer of power, was seriously threatened when in January 2021 supporters of Trump raided the Capitol Hill. And the then sitting Vice President Mike Pence was being encouraged to nullify constitutional rule by stressing that he alone could decide who won the campaign.

In occupied Kashmir, the voice of the people, has been suppressed through brutal tactics. In India, the dangerous shift toward Hindu nationalism in past few decades has undermined democracy, placed Muslims and other minorities at risk and has serious security implications for Pakistan.

The fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war is deepening hostility between the US and Russia and has implications for democracy.

In Pakistan the real threat to democracy is from the leaders elected through the democratic process. So, how important it is we choose the right ones in the coming elections.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2022.

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