On April 17, Margaret Thatcher or the Iron Lady, as she was dubbed by the Soviets, will be laid to rest. Whether we liked her politics or not, she was undoubtedly the greatest woman politician of the 20th century and a towering stateswoman of the post-war era. Several obituaries have been written about her and numerous people have commented on how she changed the face of Britain and impacted the world, and so, I will not write something similar, but reflect on why someone like her would have been ideal for Pakistan.
First, Lady Thatcher was a person of principles. Whether you agreed with her or not, you knew what she stood for and almost nothing could change her mind from what she resolutely believed in (not without thought and investigation). While everyone remembers her famous “this lady is not for turning” comment, one statement by her has been resonating with me since her death. Lady Thatcher one said: “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” And this is the crux of the problem in Pakistan. Politics in Pakistan is one of “liking” the leaders and there is little debate on policy. People vote not because Nawaz Sharif has a better economic policy, or because Imran Khan is sound on defence, but mostly on how much they “like” the person, mainly without much critical thought.
I was further struck by her comments on “consensus politics”, a familiar buzzword in Pakistan these days. In Pakistan, politicians see consensus as something of an achievement. However, speaking in Australia in 1981, Thatcher said: “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects — the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.” Doesn’t this quote aptly explain our politics of the last several years? In the name of “consensus”, all specific policies have been abandoned and the country left afloat with random ideas which no one owns. It is time to change.
Secondly, Baroness Thatcher believed in the free market. While I agree that some form of government regulation and support is needed, I do believe that she was right that the market should take its own decisions within a certain framework. In her time as prime minister, she privatised several state-owned organisations simply because the government did not have the ability to properly run them. As time has shown, privatisation not only saved these firms from bankruptcy but also improved efficiency and productivity. Just imagine if we privatise a number of the state-owned giants in Pakistan, like Pakistan Steel, Railways, Wapda, etc. Given the example of the successful de-regulation of the PTCL, similar positive changes could easily come in those organisations and for once, we might have trains running in Pakistan and maybe even get some electricity! Her reforms in opening up the City and allowing council house ownership were decisions which led to a great boom, and are policies that should be followed.
Thirdly, and ultimately, Lady Thatcher’s policies were based on self-responsibility. Having worked her way up through sheer hard work, she strongly believed in individual responsibility and work. Speaking in 1987 she said: “And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.” This is the simplest, yet the most fitting way, of understanding society and how it works. No grand plans will work, unless individuals are empowered and can take the responsibility of first changing their lives and then of others. Pakistanis are very good at “passing the buck”, blaming others for their misery, and we generally shirk from taking responsibility. However, without personal responsibility and action, no amount of good governance can improve the lot of the people and the country.
Lady Thatcher is no longer with us, but her ideals, sense of purpose, strength of character and her simple yet critical and accurate assessments, will always remain with us. I just hope that we Pakistanis, leaders as well as the people, can learn from her.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2013.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ