The stature of all mainstream political leaders in Pakistan has dwarfed in front of people. There is a severe crisis of leadership in the country and there is not a single political leader who can claim to represent the majority in all four provinces or can claim the same but is not tarnished by the charges of graft and malpractices.
Leadership and national integration are inextricably linked. When one is compromised, the other suffers. Over the course of our history, we had issues with the makeup of our country’s demographic which includes multiple ethnicities, religions, sub cultures and languages. Instead of celebrating and preserving these differences as part of our national heritage, our policymakers view these difference as undercurrents to a larger social discord which must be prevented at all costs. The Pashtunistan movement, the Bengali language movement in the former East Pakistan, Shia-Sunni sectarianism and the militant uprisings for socio-economic rights are some prominent examples of the national integration crisis that we have experienced.
With the global rise of those who purvey a militant form of Islam, and our own helplessness in becoming centre stage to global proxy wars, the country is struggling with the traditional modes of guaranteeing social harmony and peaceful interprovincial relations.
While we continue our search for what it means to be Pakistani, we should realise that a strong and capable leadership plays a vital role in countering the problems that the country is facing. Political leaders with mass appeal are viewed by the people with an aura of infallibility. A near cult status is given to them and they are projected as larger than life personalities who will work for the welfare of people. Since political leaders draw their support from the people, they are in a position to shape the understanding of the majority to reach a consensus on thorny issues and to take difficult and unpopular decisions while keeping the nation together.
One of the biggest hurdles to democracy in Pakistan is the political class. Almost all politicians have some hidden personal and political baggage, leading to potentially compromised leadership. It is difficult for them to take an ideological stand on policy matters because they know that if what is hidden is made public, it will sound the political death knell for them.
Until recently, Nawaz Sharif claimed to be the only political leader with mass popularity throughout the country. His claims were premised on the 2013 election results; the PML-N formed a government in two provinces and was in the position of forming a government in the third one as well but conceded to the PTI. With his dismissal from the PM Office and his party’s unceremonious eviction from Balochistan, Nawaz’s PML-N is now confined to Punjab. It is only now that Nawaz and the PML-N have launched a movement for restoring the sanctity of the vote. In our politics, the calls for strengthening democracy are the loudest only when the ruling party fears that it is losing grip over the corridors of power. The lack of consensus over red lines in the political realm enables political parties to be played against each other.
This will not be the first – and probably not the last time that we are having a crisis of leadership in Pakistan. However, the hostility and lack of positive reception for Pakistan in the international arena has perhaps never been as unforgiving as it is today. These factors are amplifying the internal struggles the country is experiencing at the moment.
Readers should not forget how the so-called Arab spring gave way to the Arab winter. The current pitch of our political discord carries inherent risks which cannot be ignored. One solution to our dilemma is that everyone takes a step back. But as things stand this seems unlikely. If this dance of ruin continues, something far more important than our personal egos and ambitions could get hurt.
The writer is a professional services consultant based in Islamabad. He has many years of experience working for and advising multinationals.