Political leaders should lead, not follow

Pakistani people expect and demand that the prime minister be in the country during Ramazan

Talat Masood July 21, 2015
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

It was refreshing to watch Army Chief General Sharif spending Eid in North and South Waziristan with the troops. During Ramazan, too, he had visited troops in the tribal areas fairly frequently. Earlier, he had met with the families of the victims of the December 16 massacre to reassure them that the army will never forget them. This sensitivity towards people comes naturally to General Sharif because his training and leadership instincts are geared that way.

Contrast this with our civilian leadership. Nawaz Sharif returns from Saudi Arabia on the second day of Eid after performing umra and goes to Raiwind. Leaders of other political parties and the main opposition leader spend Eid mostly in their hometowns with friends and families. Surely, it is good to have a prime minister who is pious and God-fearing. But in his capacity as prime minister, there have been serious responsibilities that have, regrettably, been completely ignored.

The Pakistani people expect and demand that the prime minister be in the country during Ramazan and spend time addressing the mega problems of the state, especially those that affect the people at large. The most glaring omission is the lack of connectivity and the absence of empathy, especially for the poor. During the last month, the country experienced an unprecedented heatwave when nearly 1,300 people lost their lives in Karachi. The federal and provincial governments and the leadership remained silent spectators as the poor masses, including women and children, died. Last week, floods ravaged several parts of Punjab and Sindh and the political leadership seems to be least concerned with the exception of a few, like Shahbaz Sharif. There are more than 1.8 million internally displaced persons languishing in camps or with relatives, some since 2007. Have our leaders thought of them? We wouldn’t want our leaders to visit these flood or heat-stricken people just for a photo opportunity, but to genuinely contribute in alleviating the people’s suffering.

Compare this attitude with leaders of other countries. US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron or French President Francois Hollande would be invariably seen visiting troops in Afghanistan before Christmas and on other celebratory occasions such as Easter. They would meet their soldiers and officers in combat zones to pay tribute to them and to express the gratitude of their respective nations, telling them how much they are indebted to them. All these measures show solidarity with the soldiers on the front line and reiterate that the nation stands fully behind them. These obligations are a central prerequisite of fostering a bond between civilians and the military, and serve as a huge morale-booster. More so, the visit of civilian leaders is important when our soldiers are making enormous sacrifices in blood and toil to maintain the territorial integrity of the state. There is another reason why the prime minister and other political leaders should show greater closeness towards the army. The Indian military is deliberately resorting to unprovoked firing to keep the Line of Control and the Working Boundary volatile in order to distract our army from fully concentrating on Operation Zarb-e-Azb and from conducting operations in Karachi against militants and mafias.

What then is preventing Nawaz Sharif and other civilian leaders to perform these basic duties? Are they worried about their personal safety? Is it the military that is discouraging them from visiting front line troops as it cannot ensure their safety? Or are they just not interested? In all probability, the answer lies in their lack of interest.

On the part of the political leadership, there is no ownership of policies or the desire to lead from the front. Instead, what we see is that the entire responsibility of fighting the militants and taking subsequent measures of development and rehabilitation being conveniently outsourced to the military. Whatever the reason, it is a serious shortcoming and a sad reflection of our leaders’ sense of priorities.

The government has made progress in terms of stabilising the economy, successfully completing some important infrastructural projects and improving relations with neighbours and major powers. Where the leadership needs to focus is on the people. There is a wide gap between the rulers and the ruled and it is this disconnect between them that appears to be the major failing of the present leadership.

Similar indifference is evident in dealing with major security issues. There appears to be no coordinated and concerted effort in implementing the National Action Plan. Progress is primarily visible only in areas where the responsibility of action lies with the military. The process is slow and uneven, showing weak commitment and resolve. Nacta remains dysfunctional and the government claims that there is progress in dealing with madrassas and handling proscribed organisations, but this does not stand to close scrutiny.

One is conscious of the reality that terrorism and security have introduced new and formidable challenges on national policy, especially on nascent democracies like ours. But overdependence on a heavily militarised security framework without robust involvement of the civilian leadership can undermine democracy and also weaken the fight against militants. Besides, shortcomings of the political leadership, combined with erosion of values and indifference of the intellectual class, does degrade the country’s overall potential. Moreover, where the civil-military balance is already tilted in favour of the military, these failings on the part of politicians further widen the gap.

Unless structural inefficiencies in the political system are removed, it will be difficult to throw up the right kind of political leadership in Pakistan. A merit-based political system that elects its leaders and that is not tied to patronage or the biradri system should produce a better class of political leadership.

The challenges facing Pakistan can test the mettle of even the greatest of leaders, but if there is a dearth of leadership and weak commitment, the challenge becomes even more formidable. Indeed, demands on the military and civilian leadership are different, but there is also a lot in common and our countrymen expect that both put in their best.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd,  2015.

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John | 8 years ago | Reply If political leaders do not follow the army they are either imprisoned or put to death. How to solve this conundrum?
Rex Minor | 8 years ago | Reply This sensitivity towards people comes naturally to General Sharif because his training and leadership instincts are geared that way.s General, humans have intelligence and not instincts, leaders are born and not trained and they have visions too. The founder of Pakistan followed by the flamboyant Mr Bhutto were the leaders with a vision but no other leader their has neared their stature.. Rex Minor
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