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Shafqat Mahmood
Thursday, February 02, 2012
From Print Edition

Pakistan’s humiliation of England in two cricket Tests has brought home again the value of leadership. This is the same team that was floundering two years ago. Under the inspirational and steady captaincy of Misbahul Haq it looks like a world beater.

The same dilemma has haunted Pakistan throughout its existence. A country full of natural resources and a huge reservoir of talented manpower has been brought to its knees by incompetent and corrupt leadership.

It is not too complicated to figure out the difference between the cricket team that was, and what it is today. It has an able leader, it is free of corruption and it has a will to win. All these necessary ingredients were missing earlier.

Pakistan too can rise up from the difficult spot it is in by a change at the top. It is not one bad decision that brings a nation down, it is hundreds and thousands of tainted choices made by those in charge. Choices made because of corrupt motives, political expediency or to help a friend or a relative – all done without a care for the country or its people.

The match-fixing saga in cricket that began in the mid-nineties had all those venal motives. Matches were thrown to make money, people were selected not on merit but because of connections, and the administrators were either mixed up or turned a blind eye to it because they wanted to hang on to their jobs. Nobody gave a second thought to what effect their shenanigans would have on the people they represented.

It is unfortunate, but we have been caught in a similar jam in governing this country. We have had bad governments in the past and we have had corrupt ones, but it would be hard to find a government as corrupt and incompetent as the one we have today. It is truly a rare combination.

Our misfortune in governance has been exacerbated by a paucity of choices. Within the democratic fold, we were stuck between two dynastic houses, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs. While both had their strengths and good moments, the essentially autocratic nature of their management-of the party and the country-gave little space for any innovative thinking. Whatever the leader thought and decided had to be accepted unquestioningly, or you were thrown out of court.

It was bad enough that these dynastic dictatorships stymied creativity; they and their families also had/have personal business agendas and plenty of get-rich schemes up their sleeves. While the Sharifs, no doubt, were an old business family, they used their time in power to enhance their business interests. The Bhuttos/Zardaris, with the exception of Zulfikar, went for straightforward cuts and kickbacks.

The military rulers were no better. In fact, it would be far more accurate to use the term ruling military cabal because, apart from the dictator himself, plenty of his uniformed colleagues had their hand in the till. From revelations of his accounts in the media, Musharraf seems to be rolling in cash, and similar stories are rife about many other generals. Some say the NLC scam in which three generals are involved is just a tip of the iceberg.

This great nation with much God-given largess and many talented people has thus been brought down largely by greed. Some of the military rulers were efficient managers like Ayub, and to an extent; Musharraf but always missed the bigger picture for minor gains. To use a metaphor, it was as if the spit and polish and glitter of the uniforms became more important than the ability to fight. A few things were fixed, but in the larger scheme of things, the nation was torn apart.

The civilians had legitimacy behind them-or most often because one cannot think that governments put together by the military, such as Junejo’s or the first of Nawaz Sharif, had any-but they frittered away their mandates through incompetence and corruption.

There is little doubt that the military continued to breathe down their neck, making their life uncomfortable, but the only way to counter it would have been through sterling performance. It turned out to be the exact opposite, making it easy for the military to enlarge its space even in a democracy.

The past, as they say, is a foreign country. Now is the time to look ahead. We are where we are and it is not a pretty sight. The real challenge is how we move forward. If we make the right choices, salvation is still possible. Reinforce failure and we have no hope.

All three ruling oligarchies, military, Sharifs and Bhutto/Zardari, have brought us to this sorry pass. It is time that we turn away from them and find the nation’s fortune, and ours, somewhere else. The good thing is that the time to make this decision is coming near. By all accounts, this seems like an election year. It is time to stand up for the country.

It is our good fortune that we are looking to make better choices within the democratic dispensation. It could have been otherwise, and often has been in the history of our country. I particularly remember a sense of dejection when as students we were largely instrumental in getting rid of Ayub and found ourselves saddled with Yahya. This, thankfully, is not the case anymore.

It is not often realised, or sometimes deliberately ignored, how much of a contribution Imran Khan’s rise has made to the strengthening of democracy. Let us face it. Through their antics in the last four years, the politicians had lost support among the intelligentsia and large swathes of the middle class. Many were indeed looking towards the military to get rid of them. Not because they loved democracy less but they hated these bad politicians more.

Imran Khan’s emergence as a credible third alternative has given people hope. This is hugely important in a country that has a long history of military takeovers. Now people feel that they don’t have to make the awful choice between two failed leaderships, or long for a clean, righteous military dictator.

They have begun to trust democracy to provide them a better future.

The writer is secretary information of the PTI. Email: shafqatmd @gmail.com