A leaderless nation

Bringing in the army to deal with political opponents is bound to boomerang with dangerous consequences.

Shamshad Ahmad August 01, 2014

‘Take me to your leader’ is easier said than done in today’s world. Nations are not led by leaders any more. Countries, including those considered champions of democracy, are no longer governed by moral imperatives. In both Eastern and Western societies, political theorists have addressed different forms and styles of leadership, including the complicated amalgam of personality required for an ideal leader. Their concepts represent both idealistic and pragmatic approaches to different social arrangements and legal structures warranting different forms of leadership and governance.

The foremost in this philosophical chain is Plato’s “philosopher king”, provided there is such a ‘superior person’ who could rule his subjects with perfect wisdom and justice. Obviously, this is too idealistic a concept to be translated into reality. For Aristotle, good governance was a relative matter as there is no best form for all peoples at all times. He favoured a government that sought the welfare of the people. In imperial China, Han Fei Tzu idealised the leader as a distant figure of enlightened subtlety, who kept very close counsel and ruled not by virtue, but by law. For Ibne Khaldun, the great Arab social scientist, the ideal leader promotes the interests of his subjects.

Machiavelli’s concept of leadership relied more on the ends rather than the means. His prince had to be strong, pragmatic and ruthless enough to unite the then city states of Italy. In the absence of virtuous citizens, he believed, there are only “corrupt masses” that can be controlled only by a prince through his “deceitful and vicious behaviour”. In The Social Contract, Rousseau visualised his own ideal of a state with a democratic system in which the sovereign power rests with the people, for they alone are in possession of an inalienable “general will”.

With such an array of thoughts influencing human minds since the emergence of the nation-state, the world has experienced all forms of political systems ranging from monarchies to republics, from aristocracies to oligarchies and from tyrannical rule to democracy. After centuries of trial and error, democracy emerged as the universally preferred choice and is now considered the most prevalent model of our era. Yet, history is also replete with tales of political figures, who not only equated themselves with the state, but also viewed their reign as a mere extension of their own egos and idiosyncrasies.

Even today, there is no dearth of willful rulers of all sorts, elected or unelected, casting their shadows across the world. In our own country, leadership has mostly been a replica of the Machiavellian princedom, always embedded in the infamous ‘doctrine of necessity’. Machiavelli’s prince has to be a “hypocritical and vacillating” personality wearing only the face of “mercy, faith, integrity, humanity, and religion” to create a public image, but in practice, often acting contrary to those very ideals. He is either “the child of fortune born into power” or “acquires power through deceit and force”. Pakistan’s political history is indeed rich in Machiavellian tradition.

With Quaid-e-Azam’s early demise, Pakistan was left leaderless and despite a miscellany of civilian and non-civilian rulers, remains so since then. The New York Times in its profuse obituary tribute to the Quaid on September 13, 1948 had described his death as an irreplaceable loss to the state of Pakistan and presciently said: “It is not clear who will replace him, or, indeed, if he can be replaced at all.” After over six decades, we remain a leaderless nation. No one ever stood out to match the Quaid in stature or calibre or even showed the minimum level of his intellect and character.

Historians admit that the Quaid-e-Azam’s ultimate authority came not from military power, not from the support of the bureaucracy, and not from constitutional prerogatives, but from the political support of the people. His successors mostly kept themselves in power, not through popular support, but by hook or by crook. They rigged every election they held and rejected the result of the country’s only free and fair election in December 1970. Instead of exploring political remedies to the resultant crisis, they preferred a military solution, which led to the country’s dismemberment, the worst that could happen to any country in contemporary history. And yet, they learnt no lesson.

We have had three constitutions — two of them abrogated by successive military rulers, and the third one adopted by an ‘elected’ legislature of a truncated Pakistan in 1973, which has since been amended umpteen times leaving very little of the original text.

The last two amendments were made, not for the good of the people, but only to consolidate the political oligarchy’s power and influence base through manipulation of the 2013 electoral process. The overbearing elitist power structure in Pakistan has been too deeply entrenched to let any systemic change take place. It doesn’t suit them. They fear any systemic reform will erode their vested power and privilege.

With frequent leadership miscarriages and resultant political instability, the military has emerged as a primus inter pares, or first among equals. If there have been instances of military intervention in the past, it was only because the civilian set-ups were invariably devoid of requisite strategic vision or talent in their political cadres leaving a vacuum to be filled by whosoever had the power and strategic proficiency. Since 2008, political ineptitude and vulnerability in Islamabad has been the order of the day, with elected governments surreptitiously seeking to weaken their nemesis, the armed forces.

The notorious memogate affair under the PPP government and now persistent mishandling of the civil-military equation by the PML-N government only shows how insecure and weak politicians are in the absence of competence and calibre within their ranks. As ‘elected’ leaders, they inspire no hope among the people who continue to look for an alternative: someone with integrity and credibility. They are doing things in the name of democracy only to remain in power. They have reduced the judiciary and legislature into non-consequential entities. The bureaucracy and the police are subservient not to the pubic good but to the vested interests of their political masters.

In this scenario, they now invoke Article 245 of the Constitution with ulterior political motives. Calling out the army for Zarb-e-Azb or to fight the BLA in Balochistan and eliminate Karachi’s urban thugs did make sense. But bringing in the army to deal with political opponents or crush their rallies is bound to boomerang with dangerous consequences as it did in a similar ill-conceived move in the late 1970s. Apparently, no one in the ruling oligarchy is left with any sense of history.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2014.

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