Pakistan’s leadership deficit

Published: December 31, 2013
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

It is clear that Pakistan’s two major political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, have already revealed their future leaders from among the family clan — Bilawal Bhutto Zardari by the PPP, and Hamza Shahbaz and Mariam Nawaz by the PML-N. All these young members of the family, brought up with a silver spoon in their mouths, are educated and energetic individuals, and may well have the potential to be national leaders in their own right. But there is a deep flaw in the way they are being foisted upon the nation.

No doubt, it has been part of the South Asian ethos to show reverence to certain political families. Nehru in India, Bhutto in Pakistan and Bandranaike in Sri Lanka were great leaders who rendered enormous sacrifices for their countries, and their sons and daughters had to be politically rewarded. Dynastic politics in Pakistan also served a useful purpose of holding the party together during periods of high stress, when unscrupulous military rulers were ruthlessly trying to eliminate them. But with passage of time and evolution of democratic institutions, exclusive reliance on hereditary politics and arbitrary choice of political leaders has become a self-defeating and unsustainable proposition. This approach only further entrenches the tribal and feudal mindset where promotion of family interest and personal loyalty takes precedence over national considerations.

In the contemporary world, any system where political leaders are not selected through a genuine, transparent and competitive process is bound to fail sooner rather than later. If political parties fail to practise democracy and fairness within their parties, how are they expected to conduct affairs of the state in a principled manner?

Moreover, family-based politics breeds mediocrity and the party eventually suffers from rapid erosion of public support. This is what we witnessed after the judicial murder of ZAB and the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto, when the PPP went on a downhill curve and has been reduced from a national to a rural party of Sindh.

Now, if we could just make the parties themselves internally democratic (as opposed to essentially feudal or dynastic structures), this country’s democracy would be making real progress. If the parties change their culture and start choosing their leaders on the basis of merit and policy platforms rather than parentage and patronage, it would be a quantum leap for democracy.

For that, fundamental reforms would be necessary to transform the philosophy and practices of political parties. Dynastic politics, based on personality cults, must yield to meritocracy and equality of opportunity if political parties are to survive. In the 20th century, countries that were coming out from colonial rule required charismatic leadership that could play on the emotions of the masses and galvanise them to fight for their independence. In the present day, Pakistan needs leaders who play less on emotion and focus more on substance and delivery.

It is on these criteria that people will be judging Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The question is, has he learnt from his years in political wilderness? His greatest personal challenge will be to prove this. He should remember he is now the prime minister of the whole country. His choice of cabinet members and close advisers has to be broad-based and not rely primarily on his inner circle of close relatives and confidantes. He should feel confident enough to select a strong and competent team of ministers. If past and current practices are an indication, our political leadership has always marginalised able politicians.

As regards Imran Khan, he has to be given credit for developing a party on more modern and altruistic lines. He also established democratic traditions by holding genuine party elections and changing the political dynamic of Pakistan. It is not his party structure, but his autocratic style and superficial understanding of national problems that is standing in his way. Does Imran Khan understand that appeasement of militants will get us nowhere? That is especially true in Pakistan today where the weaknesses of the state are reinforcing themselves (militancy reinforces weaknesses in the economy, the weak economy reinforces militancy, they both erode our education system, which exacerbates both our poverty and militancy, and so on). He could have been an agent of change, but as matters stand, he raises too many questions: is he too conservative for urban youth; too liberal for conservatives and fundamentalists; a revolutionary or simply a reformer, or merely a rabble-rouser; not politically smart enough and too obstinate to comprehend the complexities of the challenges facing Pakistan? The most disturbing aspect has been his naivety to grasp the complexities of major internal threats that the country is facing. Can he be considered a viable candidate to lead Pakistan into a new century amidst such ambiguities?

The dithering and the lack of resolve of the current political leadership has strengthened the hands of militants and given a free reign to radical forces. Similarly, on the economic front, the inability to enact fundamental reforms, target the rich and widen the tax base have placed the economy on the perpetual mercy of foreign assistance and has compromised our economic sovereignty.

The irony is that it was Nawaz Sharif who had suggested that all stakeholders in Pakistan work to achieve a consensus among all major institutions of government on a programme of action to meet the country’s challenges. The proposal was driven by three principal concerns: that the economy is in a shambles; that militancy was (and is) completely destabilising the country and putting the security of the state at risk; and, that key state institutions had begun stepping into one another’s jurisdictions, weakening the overall performance of the government and creating counterproductive conflicts when the government desperately needed to come together to address the many threats faced by the state.

If we look at developing countries that have transformed their destiny, we see that their leaderships have been uncompromising on efficiency and competence. If Pakistan is to have a future, its leaders will have to do likewise.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2014.

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Reader Comments (32)

  • Aam Admi
    Dec 31, 2013 - 11:09PM

    Not to worry. AAP will demolish the dynasty politics in India for sure in 2014 general elections. I am sure Pakistanis will also follow the foot steps of AAP and raise a grass root political party like AAP. Public is fed up of these Gandhis, Bhuttos and Sharrifs now.


  • Lal Din
    Dec 31, 2013 - 11:21PM

    My only sin: I was born in a regular middle class, non-political, in a not well connected family and in a South Asian country. Ascribed roles never disappeared in this part of the world.


  • Ahmad
    Jan 1, 2014 - 12:11AM

    Well-written and thoughtful article..
    May Allah protect us from dynasties and their remanants.. Ameen.


  • mian mithoo
    Jan 1, 2014 - 1:28AM

    Excellent article which articulates the problems facing Pakistan. One thing Pakistan lacks is competent and sincere leadership. If decent people can come to the front this will help the nation. Unfortunately those with vested interests and privilege will never allow this to happen. Only a revolution can save this country.


  • Arzoo
    Jan 1, 2014 - 1:30AM

    I would have loved to see Talat Masood Sahib, being a seasoned and astute analyst, look at the dynastic political phenomenon from the prism of anthropological viewpoint. It took the developed world centuries to override the influence of dynasties to either transform into republics or to constitutional monarchies, where inherited monarchy is relegated to a figurehead. Otherwise the world is full of Saddams promoting Udays and Qusays, Qaddafis installing Saiful Islams, Mubaraks nominating Gamals as Crown Prince until revolutions flushed them out into history’s dustbins. Same goes for the Perons to crown Evas, or Ferdinand Marcos to transfer power to Imeldas. It serves no purpose to even mention the royalties of Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf Emirates. It took the struggle and sacrifice of millions of lives in France, Russia, China, and the United States to rid themselves of dynasties. Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution even forbids the United States from granting titles of nobility. In 1810 Senator Philip Reed proposed an amendment to the Constitution proposing forfeiture of US Citizenship for accepting such a title from a foreign royalty. It passed Congress but was never ratified. But you will not see an American citizen as Sir Banana or Lord Doolittle. It will take some time to reach this stage for Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, or other such countries.


  • Np
    Jan 1, 2014 - 5:39AM

    @Aam Admi:
    BJP is not a dynastic party either.


  • Ismael
    Jan 1, 2014 - 9:18AM

    @aam admi
    This is an article about Pakistan and Pakistani politics. Don’t you have newspapers in India to read?


  • Nafsiyati khayal
    Jan 1, 2014 - 9:38AM

    Thoughtful views. However, we need to recognize that the move away from dynastic politics is part and parcel of a move from a more familial based society to an individualistic one as in the West. While there are gains from this transition, there are also many losses at a psychological level.
    All this goes to our fundamental emotional roots. I don’t think we in Pakistan are either ready or desirous for this transition. The challenge is how to retain our very rich emotional connections and combine this with more progressive thinking whereby family excesses do not undermine the social fabric, as is often the tendency in families who become powerful. A very difficult undertaking and requires really enlightened leadership as well as a confluence of a number of other socio -economic conditions.


  • Arindom
    Jan 1, 2014 - 2:35PM

    then don’t publish the tribune on the internet – put it up on some internal, firewalled server in Karachi…linked only to other Pakistani servers…


  • mano
    Jan 1, 2014 - 2:58PM

    Apart from political dynasty there is some factors in our nation also which is the main hurdle towards the real democracy, Why our people don’t use their votes in the right manner why we always rely on these parties again and again?


  • Aqeel Abbas
    Jan 1, 2014 - 5:27PM

    One wonders what exactly our leadership ideals are and if we can ever find a leader who meets total consensus by all and sundry. The worthy writer, on one hand seems to have provided useful suggestions to PM Nawaz Sharif to bring us out of the current sociopolitical mess we are in –as if neither this is his third stint as PM nor that he had a hand in the mess, implying that he probably is apt for the job and meets the writer’s leadership standards and, and on the other hand, even after appreciating Imran Khan’s role in being the only leader who has broken the greatest barrier in Pakistani politics by having intra party elections and thus paving the way for a true democratic culture, criticizes him as having a very superficial stance on major issues of national interest.

    As an ordinary citizen of the country who keenly observes the national affairs, I dare to ask the worthy writer if a leader like Imran Khan -whether genuine or a product of a 40 feet fall – can be credited to reflect change and for taking true, genuine and uncompromising stance on all important issues, then how can the same statesmen of the country forget to think deeply about other critical/comical aspects of national politics especially the terrorism and the rising specter of militancy?

    The deficit, in my opinion, therefore is not of leadership but of the dichotomous behavior of our thought pattern.


  • Aqeel Abbas
    Jan 1, 2014 - 5:34PM

    How can you say and prove that people have never voted right? What is the guarantee that their right vote will guarantee them the right leaders as a result? The real problem in my humble opinion is our very high threshold of tolerating the wrong doing. I think a flimsy, unorganized and non united pretest against evil doers is the main cause of social decline of Asian/subcontinent countries.


  • Jan 1, 2014 - 7:21PM

    @Arzoo: This article by Mr.Talat Masood is well-written and thoughtful. However the points raised by you are very meaningful. To be honest I also appreciate the democratic system in America and their achievements in the fields of human rights and equality etc but to compare their system with India, China or Europe or other countries with thousands of years of history is not correct. These ancient countries have evolved and experimented with time into various systems of governance and today find that with many fault lines democracy is better. You have rightly said “It took the struggle and sacrifice of millions of lives in France, Russia, China, and the United States to rid themselves of dynasties.” But to say that America has no dynasties will be wrong. Yes they may not have dynasties in the historical sense but think what are Fords, Rockefeller, Kennedy, Bush,Lee Cooper and hundreds of other families who are treated even more tenderly than royalties. Let the time pass you will see many more joining. BUT YES we in the subcontinent have to go a long way to reach that point. People like Mayawati, Mamta Banerjee, Lalu Yadav,Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi and hundreds of others in India are making a new path. But in any democracy the danger will always be lurking that when children of these common people become special.


  • Aahjiz BayNawa
    Jan 1, 2014 - 8:13PM

    What the author should also analyze is dynastic or not how the leadership has been deficient in terms of competence, in terms really leading Pakistan in a positive direction, in terms of being followed by the majority, actually, in terms of hardly representing the majority, with a few well-known exceptions. I would accept any dynasty, if it were truly democratically elected but was not deficient in the areas mentioned afore.


  • desist or
    Jan 1, 2014 - 9:25PM

    TM good article but not convinced about ur assessment of IK. He is a true leader who does not have “not possible” in his dictionary. He is different to us. He does not recognise obstacles. All he sees is the objective. He also has vision which normal human being lacks. Basically he is different to ur normal dynastic politician.


  • Secular Hindu
    Jan 1, 2014 - 9:29PM

    Leadership deficit is not just in Pakistan, but also is most of a South Asia. Leadership even in India is mostly tied to past , narrow fundamentalist ideologies , intolerant ideas . For Soth Asia to progress , progressive, tolerant, liberal mindset is need of hour.


  • saeed
    Jan 1, 2014 - 11:08PM

    Mr. Talat Masood tried very hard to get a job in Nawaz Government but now it looks he has given up and started writing against PMLN and PPP.


  • Parvez
    Jan 1, 2014 - 11:27PM

    The main thrust of the article is appreciated but just by saying that dynestic trends should not be followed and efficiency and competence must be adhered to, does not really help.
    If I am not wrong, the constitution clearly says that those standing for office MUST be of upright character, honest etc………so the filter for filtering out the bad it very much there. What is not, is the will and the requisite caliber of person to impose it. If rules were followed 90% of our lawmakers would not be lawmakers today and that would have been a good start.


  • Daal chana
    Jan 1, 2014 - 11:43PM

    Dear general sahib,
    It took you such a long Army service, self made political analysis and perhaps appearance on hundreds of television talk shows, only to deduce this vacuum of leadership in this country.

    Alot of the Pakistanis knew it well before. But unfortunately the likes of you supported such kleptocracy, which you call democracy.


  • Gp65
    Jan 1, 2014 - 11:47PM


    The issue refers not just to who is elected initially. But what are the accountability mechanism. Yes, having an election from time to time is an important accountability mechanism but if it is the only one, it will be insufficient. There has to be ongoing engagement by civil society on issues they consider important, additionally the other accountability mechanisms I.e media, judiciary etc. need to function not just independently but in an unbiased manner. In the last 15-20 years, we have seen in India that over a period of time there has been a trend that at least at state level, governments that deliver are re-elected and those that do not are thrown out. When these things happen parties will be forced to put forward better candidates.

    Finally last but not the least it is absence of local governments in Pakistan which makes it difficult for new non dynastic leaders to emerge.

    I generally agree with your views. However I beg to differ when you compare the dynastic approach in Pakistan with that in India. Our present PM Manmohan Singh, his predecessors Vajpayee and Narsimha Rao – do not have any dynastic links and come from humble backgrounds. Sheila Dixit, Arvind Kejrival, Shivraj Chouhan, Modi, Nitish Bhardwaj, Sushma Swaraj, Mayawati, Jaylalita, Mamata Banerjee, Narendra Modi, Raman Singh – all of these are or have been chief ministers. None of them come from a dynasty or elite families.

    More importantly there are 2.5 million elected local body personnel and this is the nursery that will develop the new non dynastic leaders.

    No doubt there are many who do have family links in India but then that is true in US also. Kennedy, Romney, Bush, Clinton are just some examples. But as long as others who do not have family links or feudal background are able to make a mark in state and national politics- I think that is fine. In India you will find journalists, businessmen, cricketers, film stars, TV actors, bureaucrats all entering politics.


  • Arzoo
    Jan 2, 2014 - 12:51AM

    @Gp65: I also think that your comments are usually well thought-out and carry weight and contribute meaningfully to discussions. But, here you are mixing apples and oranges. South Asia is generally afflicted with the scourge of dynastic politics: the Gandhis, Bhuttos, Bandranaikes, & Sheikh Mujib’s progeny somehow consider their birthright to rule the respective countries. That is what Mr. Talat Masood’s article is about. Exceptions prove the rule; not confirm it. In Pakistan, Jinnah’s, Liaquat Ali’s, or Nishtar’s families have had no role in politics, & in the rare occasion (Fatima Jinnah) where they ventured into it, they did not succeed. And Gp, I am surprised you cited PM Manmohan Singh, since you know well that he cannot even win a Lok Sabha seat on his own, and his prime-ministership is exclusively due to Sonia Gandhi’s wishes. (Plus he comes from our Gah village of Jhelum District, so I wish he could on his own ;) (You know I am just kidding.)

    Regardless, my allergy towards dynastic politics and my main concern is our common man. I would like to see local leaders and political workers rising to political prominence so they can fight for our people, on both sides of the borders, to make their lives a little better, provide education, healthcare, roads and bridges, longer lives, and happiness overall. That is why I am happy to see Arvind Kejriwal as CM, and also hoping for Narendra Modi as PM. And, no I do not have any reservations about Modi.

    Be well.


  • Gp65
    Jan 2, 2014 - 1:56PM

    Agree with your notion that the Bhuttos, Gandhis and Bandarnaikes do not have any God given right to rule. Now onto your point about Manmohan Singh: the very fact that Sonia had to exercise power indirectly is because there was huge resistance to her becoming PM. In any case Manmohan Singh’s position as FM was entirely on merit and not due to any political connections. You maybe aware that he hails from a humble background. Nor we’re Vajpayee and Narsimha Rao associated with any dynasty or elite family.

    Several parties in India are not dynastic in origin BJP, CPIM, Trinamool Congress, BSP, AIADMK. AAP is a recent addition to this list and by no means unique. The examples I had given above span several states and several parties and hence cannot be considered an exception. I do agree though that the much wider choice became available to India after 40 years of uninterrupted democracy.

    The example of Liaqat Ali matches Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Dr. radha krishna and so on. They were leaders of the independence movement and that was their qualification. The problems of dynastic rule arose later. Even India did have this problem in the early years of its democracy but increasingly (in the last 20-25 years) people in India have been rewarding governance rather than membership of a family. I feel pretty confident that Rajiv Gandhi will not become PM of India at least based o present performance. Recommend

  • Jan 2, 2014 - 4:56PM

    @Aam Admi: You are wrong. Beginning his journey by distributing free water and power he is doing what other parties have done by freebies distribution for votes. This act has put a big question mark in the minds of educated middle class – main support of AAP. No sensible person supports distribution of freebies as it is the hard earned money of the honest tax payers and an insult to the people who work hard to earn honest money. In fact it is open bribery for votes a shame.


  • Jan 2, 2014 - 5:05PM

    @Gp65: Thanks very well written… precise and to the point.


  • UB40
    Jan 2, 2014 - 5:54PM

    @Arzoo and GP65,
    What about the Far East, they gained independence much after both India and Pakistan and were in much more dire straits in terms of socio-economic circumstances. Yet we dont hear about dynastic politics there (barring N. Korea of course). Should it not have taken them centuries? The issue is the South Asian culture. We believe in and follow pecking order, baradari, tribe etc. No one gets out of line otherwise is disowned and even physically harmed. Fuedals in Pakistan literally own complete villages and their inhabitants tied down due to enormous debts the owe to the fuedals. Industrialists can buy loyalties. Remaining get power from spiritual devotees. You cannot remove dynastic politics without removing the causes.

    @Author, most respectfully Sir, I heard this definition of leadership at (of course) a leadership convention,* “Commanders command, managers manage, leaders … well they just inspire”*. We have a leadership deficit because we have an inspiration deficit. I challenge you to name one inspirational civilian or military leader in Pakistan at the national level. Most who are till their middle ranks lose it by the time they become senior. If they cannot compromise, they fade away early with their integrity and honour in tact.


  • gp65
    Jan 2, 2014 - 9:56PM

    @UB40: “What about the Far East, they gained independence much after both India and Pakistan and were in much more dire straits in terms of socio-economic circumstances”

    Which Far East country are you referring to? Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia have all had dynastic succession. South Korea has a dictator. In Malaysia a single party has been ruling for the longest time and only that person can become PM who has Mahathir Mohammed’s support.Recommend

  • Arzoo
    Jan 2, 2014 - 11:31PM

    @Gp65 & @VINOD: Points well taken. What you have stated, in terms of leaders developing from grass roots public in India, is encouraging and heartening. We need to look forward towards a time when our people rank high on the Human Development Index and is a model region in the world.


  • Rex Minor
    Jan 3, 2014 - 4:59PM

    ET moderator,
    Do you reckon that the subject article is mainly of interest for the Indian readers?

    Rex Minor


  • Rex Minor
    Jan 3, 2014 - 5:05PM

    This puffed up former General has the cheek to criticise the civilian leadership of the country which has suffered under the military leadership for a period which has put back the country in terms of political awakening more than a century behind other Nations in the region.

    Rex Minor


  • UB40
    Jan 3, 2014 - 5:46PM

    Agreed that they have had their own episodes of dictatorships and dynastic influences but the situation as I see is very different from South Asia. Dynasties have had to justify their place in politics with reasons other than just belonging to a particular family and hence having leadership birth rights. Even Mahathir has had to justify many of his actions to the Malaysians. In the end, all politics end in public’s plate or their purse (and of course social services). There is little need for a satisfied public to change anything. Example is the current discontentment in Singapore because of migrant workers and the leadership has had to rethink its policy. Frankly if I really dont (and I doubt many would) care the genetic makeup of any leadership as long as it delivers.


  • Jan 3, 2014 - 7:24PM

    @Arzoo: Thanks. i agree and hope that as the roots of democracy goes deeper things will improve. Emergence of AAP of Arvind Kejrival is shaking the system and forcing moves towards the directions desired by you. Within a year from an IT officer to Chief Minister of Delhi indicates the participation of young and educated in the political path of their country.


  • Jan 3, 2014 - 7:30PM

    @Rex Minor: You are telling the Moniter “Do you reckon that the subject article is mainly of interest for the Indian readers?”
    Why ask him/her ask your self why is it so? why people of Pakistan for whose interest and good this article was written by a Pakistani General could not care less??? think hard


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