Many of us in Pakistan wonder when we will have a political leader we can be proud of and follow with some degree of true admiration. At the current time, the scenario looks bleak.
Imran Khan, who so many had put their faith in to build his ‘Naya Pakistan’ or ‘Riyasat-e-Madina’, as he later insisted on terming it, proved to be something of a disaster given that his lack of solid economic policies and quite obvious incompetence as well as vengeance against those whom he labeled thieves and thugs did little to build a favourable democratic culture in the country. The poorest tier of society also lives under the burden of the inflation that appeared during his time for a variety of reasons, some at least due to poor governance. In every sector, tens of thousands have been suddenly rendered jobless with white collar workers performing blue collar jobs simply to survive.
Those who oppose him do not have a better record. The PML-N has been in power three times, and while some would say it put in place a number of solid development projects, others point to the massive corruption which took place under them and to the lack of ability to help Pakistan climb out of poverty. Nearly 50 per cent of our children under-five years of age today are stunted, others wasted or born severely underweight. In essence, people do not have enough to eat and the building of bridges or railway tracks will not change this, although it may help some people.
The PPP rule in Sindh since 2008 has turned Karachi into a chaotic urban jungle where land mafias grab land, solid waste cannot be collected and people literally struggle to find water to drink. In its three tenures in power, the PPP too failed to change the landscape of a country over which Bangladesh now shows superiority in terms of social development and exports. This is saddening – though of course for Bangladesh itself it marks a remarkable degree of success.
So, we ask: where does good leadership come from? This is the reason so many people have lost faith in the current system of parliamentary democracy, with some falling for a more autocratic presidential system and others simply stating that a dictatorship would be a change for the better. The answer is not simple. We need cycle after cycle of uninterrupted democracy to throw up good leaders. When such a system remains in place, leaders such as Jacinda Arden of New Zealand do eventually emerge, winning two consecutive terms in power and setting an example which has left the world stating almost united admiration. Arden’s quiet but determined style of leadership has helped New Zealand unite as a nation. For those of us in Pakistan her actions after the 2019 shooting of Muslims in a mosque in Christchurch will be remembered for a very long time to come. The examples set by Arden brought New Zealanders together in condemning the brutal attack.
There are other leaders who have set superb examples of what good leadership can do, even if their legacy has crumbled after their demise or departure from office. Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela both rank among these. So too does Rafael Currera in Ecuador and other leaders in Latin America and perhaps more arguably South East Asia, where dictatorship may persist but countries have been lifted into new levels of development. Malaysia and its neighbour Singapore are both examples.
We will have to wait for such leadership. This is the main drawback of democracy. But eventually, leaders will emerge. There is already talk of the abilities of people like Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N, Sherry Rahman of the PPP, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also of the PML-N and possibly Bilawal Bhutto himself as we see him evolve into a more mature and more articulate leader. The challenge remains to overcome his difficulties with language and thereby draw people to him as his grandfather and mother were both able to. In the background, we also have Asifa Bhutto Zardari. The dynastic approach is unfortunate, but it was overthrown in India after years of rule by the Nehrus and the Gandhis, even if Narendra Modi is an unfortunate replacement for them.
How can we help? We can help by studying democracy a little more closely and understanding why governments in countries like Mexico have been successful while ours have failed. We also have an acute problem of ideology. Almost all our mainstream parties follow virtually the same ideology of the right-wing and do not veer beyond the centre-left at best. This would not in itself necessarily be a problem, but it does leave people with less choice and less ability to determine what kind of leadership they desire.
We need to ensure that civil rights movements like the PTM or leaders of movements and rights-based parties are allowed the space to speak their minds in parliament. There are smaller Baloch parties coming up too, including the movement by Maulana Hidayatullah to give the people of Gwadar their rights; these also need encouragement and protection. His leadership was a superb example of peaceful protest leading to at least some change, which we hope will go beyond the paper it was written on.
There are also other groups advocating for change – related to climate, animal rights, gender equity and a more equal education at schools. We are far away from achieving these goals. But each of these movements can help push the country in the right direction. If there are more civil movements in the country, they could turn into a true lobby able to demand the change people so urgently need. After all, in the US and in other countries it is lobby groups which primarily act to push forward manifestos and make arguments for change.
We need many more such lobbies in the country – not just those seeking exemptions and assistance for factories and mills but also those who can argue on behalf of peasants, fisherfolk and people from less privileged backgrounds who urgently need it. If we have enough such groups and enough power pushing them forward – whether it is through art, writing, graffiti, music or other means – there is a very real possibility that at one time or another, our parliament will produce a leader who genuinely cares for the country and its people.
While we do not have student unions which are active at present, if a change is made in the existing law this is one place from where leaders frequently rise. There are also other places from where leaders could come up. The primary problem however would be for a sincere leader dedicated to the people to remain in power in a situation where unelected institutions wield so much power. This will be his or her main challenge and we as a people must overcome it in the search for good leadership.
The writer is a freelance
columnist and former
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