Stop waiting for Superman

Published: July 25, 2012
The writer is an adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC. He tweets at @pakistanpolicy

The writer is an adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC. He tweets at @pakistanpolicy

Pakistan is a massive country that is full of enormous potential but beset by immense challenges. Leveraging its strengths and overcoming its weaknesses is beyond the ability of one man, team, or party. To make Pakistan what it ought to be — a democratic, prosperous, and secure country that respects the dignity and rights of each and every one of its citizens and is a force for good in the world — requires a collective effort and reform from the top down and bottom up.

Deep and lasting reform can only take place through a legitimate, uninterrupted democratic system. Unfortunately, most Pakistanis don’t have the patience for democracy. Sixty-one percent of those polled in a Pew Global Attitudes Project poll this year say they favour a “strong hand” — i e, a ‘clean’ and ‘effective’ authoritarian — over democracy. It’s hard for the average Pakistani to have faith in democracy when he or she is kept in the dark, both by prolonged power cuts and a political process that tends to shut him or her out. But patience isn’t merely a virtue — it can also be of great material value.

Consider this: the present hung parliament has managed to pass three major constitutional amendments unanimously. The Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth amendments are landmark achievements in Pakistan’s history — perhaps, second only to the 1973 Constitution. They represent the political class’ attempts to collectively determine the rules of the game and how the system works. These amendments are rooted in the 2006 Charter of Democracy (CoD), which is a by-product of lessons learned by the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif while in exile. In his first two years as president, Asif Ali Zardari played games with Mian Sahab. Their March 2008 Murree Accord gave hope that the CoD would become a reality. But Zardari backtracked and said that the agreement was neither the Quran, nor the Hadith, and so he had no obligation to fulfil his commitment.

Since 2010, Zardari has managed to acquire some perspective, allowing his party and the PML-N to agree on and implement the requirements of the three aforementioned amendments. Now, thanks to the Eighteenth Amendment, the PPP and the PML-N have for the first time come to agreement on a consensus chief election commissioner. And in the coming weeks, a bipartisan committee mandated by the Twentieth amendment will allow them to agree on who will run the next caretaker government.

These changes won’t put the lights back on, fill the state exchequer, or stop drone attacks, target killers, and terrorists. But they will help allow Pakistan to have legitimate, popularly-supported governments that serve more or less their full terms. And that in turn will give the politicians a chance to govern and voters an opportunity to reward or punish them based on performance. An election cycle or two later, failed politicians could return mending their ways, resulting in a system that becomes less imperfect.

Effective, issues-based parliamentary coalition building will be key to keep the ball rolling. There will be ample opportunity for that after the next elections. Most likely, we’ll see another hung parliament with the PML-N and the PPP forming the top two followed distantly by the MQM and the PTI. The third and fourth place parties will be courted by the two above them. So what if both the MQM and the PTI decide to make their joining the next coalition government contingent upon the PML-N or the PPP agreeing to a comprehensive reform of the tax system? More revenue for the government means more funds for education and development and less dependency on foreign governments.

Similar approaches can be used to push for other necessary reforms: revamping the sclerotic bureaucracy; cutting red tape to boost business growth and encourage foreign direct investment; and remedying a failing judicial system from the bottom up.

Those who are waiting for Superman should know that he will never arrive. Pakistan will reach its full potential when imperfect women and men in parliament rise to their better selves. Their moral cognition will be made more lucid when it is the voter, not the army chief, who holds a sword of Damocles above their heads.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • Jul 25, 2012 - 11:21PM

    We don’t need Superman we have Imran Khan. He is real, and he is here!


  • Salman
    Jul 25, 2012 - 11:39PM

    imran Khan may not be superman but he is better then Nawaz , the sharif or asif zardari :)Recommend

  • Jul 25, 2012 - 11:44PM

    We are a nation of below average & non competent people & that is represented in the National Assembly. Some are waiting for Super man IK who will a BIG disappointment because this country cannot afford any more experiments. Simple solution start doing exactly opposite what we have been doing since 65 years.


  • Falcon
    Jul 25, 2012 - 11:55PM

    @Raza Khan:
    “We are a nation of below average & non competent people”…keep up the great confidence!…saying we are heading the wrong direction is one thing…but calling whole nation below average and non-competent (guess you meant incompetent??) is certainly a hyperbole


  • AZW
    Jul 25, 2012 - 11:59PM

    Most readers will be quick to dismiss your op-ed as fanciful, overly optimistic, and a deprived from reality collection of words. Most of them will continue to look for instant messiah, without ever taking a moment to think that the record of all-too-sincere iron hands in shepherding their counties to long term social and economic growth is a horrible reading. Most of the instant messiah crowd will like to throw the future on the roll of a minimum odd dice, the proof of which is in the pudding that has been in the making for the past 65 years of Pakistani history.

    Yet, what you write is as relevant as it is painfully true for most of the masses otherwise grinding under poverty and lack of access to the rule of law and basic amenities. But we forget present is just a product of our mistake-filled past. And once our short sightedness gets the better of us, we begin reinventing the wheel, condemning the future generations to the same apathy that our previous generation assigned us with.

    Pakistan is no different than any other country in the world. Our society will not prosper by choosing easy fixes. Throughout the human history, evolution has been the only source of progress. In a social context, evolution is by choosing, making a mistake, become incrementally better by learning by mistake, and continue to do that. Mistakes will never ever vanish, but they decrease as the process builds upon itself. With the advent of free media and open intellectual borders, societies tend to wisen up quickly now than they did say 30, 50 or 100 years ago. Therefore, this evolution is not as painfully slow as many Pakistanis imagine it to be. Turkey, Indonesia, South Africa and not to forget, India are the very real examples who seem to be on the right track when it comes to social and economic progress, once democracy takes root and is repeated even under poor governance and weak institutions.

    You are absolutely correct that constitutional reforms instituted by the present government are huge long term positive for the future of Pakistan, even if their significance pales in comparison with chronic power outages and security situation in the country. Pakistan’s salvation lies in letting its population choose its own leaders, even if the choice is imperfect. At the end of the day, imperfect individuals making imperfect choices inside a continuous democratic process is far preferable to choosing instant messiahs (or Superman as you call them), who come with much fanfare, yet prove far more disastrous to the nation as Messiah’s imperfectness never finds a mechanism or a system to evolve, and continues to wreak havoc upon the nation.


  • Syed
    Jul 26, 2012 - 12:19AM

    We need to be more religious, pious and faithful towards our religion. ALLAH will help us.


  • Tamoor
    Jul 26, 2012 - 1:17AM

    @Raza Khan:
    So basically you are also incompetent, hey if the whole nation is dumb what does that make you.


  • Noman Ansari
    Jul 26, 2012 - 1:35AM

    You only have to wait till 2013. Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan baby. Man of Steel!


  • waqas
    Jul 26, 2012 - 2:00AM

    Imran dont have wings with him nor he have a red tighty , but he is our superman :) youth and sane people want to eradicate this corrupt system.period


  • asim
    Jul 26, 2012 - 2:08AM

    The authur seems to be a beneficiary of pakistani democracy.The current leadership is no way democratic its a small ruling elite backed by some media beneficiaries.Its based on dynastic politics and coomon man is not being represented by this class.
    Just making people fool


  • Jul 26, 2012 - 2:10AM

    Letting the ordinary leaders to `rise to their better selves´ asks for a totally different kind of communal climate.Public weal and national integrity have to replace abstractions like Ghairat and obsessions like security.etc..In a restless context, the longing for an instant remedy is comprehensible.But for fruitful results unfaltering patience and a combined commitment is oblgatory.Best wishes.


  • asim
    Jul 26, 2012 - 2:11AM

    Welfare states are not established by supermans. They are there because of true and committed leadership.Its ironoical that some writers still sings democratic songs which is not representing and serving common man.


  • gp65
    Jul 26, 2012 - 3:20AM

    “Those who are waiting for Superman should know that he will never arrive. Pakistan will reach its full potential when imperfect women and men in parliament rise to their better selves. Their moral cognition will be made more lucid when it is the voter, not the army chief, who holds a sword of Damocles above their heads”

    Well said. This is the heart of your Op/Ed and really well articulated. People need to give some time to democracy and better systems/governance will emerge. The ‘efficient dictators’ track record isnot that efficient when one looks at the fall-out of their actions:
    1) Ayub’s actions lost half the country
    2) Zia’s participation in Afghan jihad in lieu of money led to drug culture, weoponization and radicalization. Of course he also hanged an elected PM
    3) Musharraf took Pakistan into war on terror. Created problems in Balochistan. Made no investments in key infrstructure like electricity and railways. Of course he overthrew and arrested a PM elected with 2/3rd majority.

    No one challenges the generals. so negatives of their period are less instilled in public memory compard to the “corrupt civilians”.


  • HUM
    Jul 26, 2012 - 8:32AM

    @mokun: Agreed 100%


  • Jul 26, 2012 - 9:16AM

    I really empathize with you. I wholeheartedly agree with your column, but I am afraid you are preaching to the wrong audience.

    India adapted to Democracy beautifully, like a fish to water. Democracy and the related systems were the goals of the Nehru/Gandhi combo, specially Nehru. He has written treatise-like articles and letters explaining his vision for India. India’s system was pre-planned, well in advance to the partition. Some elements wanted to derail him and India with grandiose delusions of their own, but Nehru stood his ground. He would not compromise his with his goals: Full, unadulterated Democracy, with equal rights to all, under a modern, secular Constitution.

    Compare this to Jinnah, when asked about Democracy for Pakistan, took to the crutches of Religion, indicating that Democracy was consistent with Islam. An original idea, indeed?

    So, the idea of Democracy and such systems had to be justified using Religion, rather than them allowing it to stand on their own merit, which they did in India and elsewhere in the free world. In Pakistan, since the crutches of Religion were used, others used the same justification to derail Democracy.

    Vision makes a lot of difference. Nehru had it in plenty. We see that in his India today. Indian mind was forcefully moulded by Nehru, which only freed it.


  • DevilHunterX
    Jul 26, 2012 - 9:39AM

    I am waiting for Supergirl.


  • Mirza
    Jul 26, 2012 - 11:09AM

    This is one of the best Op Eds that I have read lately. I agree with everything that the author has said with a few comments of mine. We in Pakistan do not have a democratic mindset. People who live in cities dislike the people and their choices from the rural heartland. People are divided both vertically and horizontally. The polarization is ethnic, religious and personal in most areas of Pakistan. We are a tribal culture and mentality. We do not ever accept defeat and always have excuses to justify everything that is wrong. Having said all this, there is still chances of progress with true education, political training and a few elections. Even with the rosy picture that the author has presented would not materialize till we reprioritize what we want. We cannot be a super power and beggar at the same time. We have to live and behave like a third world country and not compete with big boys otherwise we would implode with all our non productive expenses in the budget.


  • Zoaib
    Jul 26, 2012 - 11:41AM

    We could wait for these imperfect men and women to rise above their personal selves, or we could replace these with relatively better men and women under a better leadership which actually allows good talent to rise (within the political party). The people have a choice in the next elections, they may make the right choice in favour of such a party…and I given recent opinion polls, I believe they will.


  • Raza Khan
    Jul 26, 2012 - 12:24PM

    Sorry, I meant in-competent! Thank God, I am not in Pakistan anymore.


  • Yasir Mehmood
    Jul 26, 2012 - 5:40PM

    Agreed but lets say that once ordinary people will develop a feeling of belonging and responsibility towards this country things will improve themselves. Education will be helpful but not entirely in developing this feeling. Things will take time, 65 years is a very small duration in history lets assume things will improve for this country not in our life time but maybe after 50 years or 100 years? but, question is will we survive?. So, what I believe is that priority of next government should be to keep system and this country intact things will gradually improve once Pakistanis learn to live in coexistence, peacefully and responsibly rather than waiting for the superman.


  • Jul 26, 2012 - 6:33PM

    Pakistan is born on the basis of religion and therefore religion has found place in the constitution too. Too much importance on religion in comparison to the welfare of mases, governance, economic growth has yielded its result which is visible in hatre and deteriorating economic condition,. Allah too helps those who help themselves.


  • Ishrat salim
    Jul 26, 2012 - 7:11PM

    I wud rqst you all to pray saving Baluchistan first. Rest will automatically follow….pls…if Baluchistan goes, you guys think other areas will be safe ?This govt is not serious in resolving Baluchistan issue, but trying to demonize our LEAs thru planned agenda.The day FCs are withdrawn, then watch the whole Baluchistan burn….then when FC n Army will be called in to save, it will be too late like Eastern wing now BD…..and enemy agenda shall stand complete….PPP govt under ZAB lost Eastern wing n the present govt will repeat history…some may not like this comment but it is the truth based on daily occurrences in Baluchistan n SC reports based on its Suo moto notice which was the prerogative of the govt n parliament to take up this serious issue…but failed which has exposed its Lax attitude towards this serious issue which need political solutions.


  • kaalchakra
    Jul 26, 2012 - 9:17PM


    The Great Quaid was one such man. So to claim that Great Men don’t arise when needed is patently false. Imran Khan looks and sounds every bit like the Great Quaid – which is why you folks and your American friends don’t like him much.

    Secondly, the parallel you drew between the Great Quaid and your nehru was rather absurd. The Great Quaid played the roles of Gandhi, Nehru, Mountbatten and Patel – all rolled in one, and more. Unlike Nehru who essentially slacked off luxuriating in palatial ‘jails’, the Great Quaid was out, constantly engaged in constitutional fights against the British and the Congress.

    But the most important fact, and this is what you must grasp fully, Nehru was creating his so-called ‘vision’ from scratch. India really had had no tradition of democracy, justice, and high civilization. The Great Quaid, on the other hand, was heir to a great civilization that already had all that he and Pakistan needed.

    Again, you cannot understand the current Pakistan by under-estimating the Great Quaid.


  • Jul 26, 2012 - 9:35PM


    Lovely satire. I can’t believe you had me fooled all this while.

    This bit cracked me up: “The Great Quaid, on the other hand, was heir to a great civilization that already had all that he and Pakistan needed.”



  • Mir Agha
    Jul 26, 2012 - 10:19PM

    Democracy isn’t a panacea.


  • pmbm
    Jul 27, 2012 - 3:25AM

    we need to understand the religion and principles it teaches and put them in practice. Principles like honesty, justice,protection of minorities and their places of worship, zakat to to bring less fortunate of all religions up economically and many more all good.


  • observer
    Jul 27, 2012 - 8:01PM

    A nation that has always lurched from one superman to another, from Bin Qasim, to Ghouri to Ghaznavi to Abdali , to Qaid e Azam, to Field Marshal to Mard e Haq , to Gen Commando, how can such a nation do anything else but wait for another Superman?

    And, hence rises Khan the Three Week Miracle Worker.


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