Saturday, March 6, 2010

Resolving our crises

Decades of military rule, lack of democratic culture within political parties, feudal and tribal character of the society, weak institutions and a highly disturbed neighbourhood has created a serious leadership deficit in Pakistan at a time when the country faces massive challenges. The crisis in leadership is pervasive and extends beyond politicians to practically every facet of our national life- education, industry, business, trade unions, religion, sports, etc. The reason is the same for society has decayed to a stage where patronage and self-interest has taken precedence over meritocracy and personal loyalties to competence. As a consequence there are hardly any leaders who have a vision and intellectual calibre to face the gathering storm.

What matters most however is the ability and competence of our political leaders! The dilemma being that we have an all powerful but inexperienced president who by sheer twist of history has been jettisoned into this position. No doubt, President Zardari is working hard and putting in long hours, despite the impression to the contrary. He has made earnest efforts at improving relations with Afghanistan, Iran, India and the Gulf states, and in addition is trying to consolidate and expand our relationship with China, US, UK, France and other European and Muslim countries. His clear and unequivocal stand against militants, emphasis on economic development and building ties through trade and investment with countries surely reflect his positive side.

On the contrary his handling of the lawyer’s movement and the unfair treatment meted out to PML-N was a disaster that nearly pushed his party and himself out of power. His choice of prime minister has been good. Mr Gillani may not be charismatic or articulate but is a respected politician and a consensus builder. His problem however is that he has to look over the shoulder of the president and army chief for all major policy matters. But there are serious problems with President Zardari’s reputation both at home and abroad. Besides, he lacks the intellectual and moral fibre that is needed at this time to handle the affairs of a state that is virtually at war with itself. Due to his soiled reputation, poor communication skills in English and Urdu and absence of a coherent vision even his good side remains hidden.

He is shy of facing the masses in person or on screen which is a basic prerequisite of being an effective leader and made a huge mistake by remaining out of country when the counter-insurgency operations in Swat and other areas was taking place. In normal circumstances one could have overlooked these shortcomings and waited for the democratic transition to take its course and throw up a new crop of leadership that can lead the nation on the right course. The magnitude of crisis is such that we do not have the luxury of too much time and results have to be achieved to prevent the country from going into a sharp downward spiral. If the answer to this dilemma has to found from within the system then President Zardari will have to bring about radical changes in the way he is exercising power.

Clearly, running the government falls in the domain of the prime minister, but in view of the fact that real power rests with President Zardari he has to ensure that all financial transactions of the government are fully transparent and aboveboard. He can redeem himself by launching a genuine campaign against corruption and leaning heavily on the federal and provincial governments to bring about marked improvement in governance. If he wants to launder his past reputation he has to be scrupulously honest and perceived to be as such and support the prime minister in his efforts at bringing qualitative improvements in all areas of governance by supporting bureaucracy and strengthening administrative structures.

As a first step to improve performance of the government President Zardari should induct in the cabinet Aitzaz Ehsan, Raza Rabbani and Sherry Rehman and bring in a new crop of at least six to seven bright and promising young politicians from among PPP and coalition partners across the country. This will inject dynamism and will also help in throwing up future leadership. Merely relying on dynastic leadership for a country of 170 million people would be unfair to the party and the country.

The prime minister has been very regular in attending the Parliament sessions, but the record of legislation which is their main function has been so far disappointing and needs to be stepped up. Parliamentary committees apart from the PAC are dormant and should be energised to provide leadership in their respective fields.

The intellectual and vision deficit of our contemporary leadership could be partly offset if the president was to seriously consider developing a pool of Pakistani experts on non-partisan basis on economy, finance, energy, agriculture, industry, transport, business, IT, media and other major areas. There are several examples in history when mediocre heads of governments or state by collecting able persons around them leveraged the performance of the government. President Truman and Reagan were among those who were otherwise mediocre but collected around them people of intellect, integrity and expertise as advisors and are judged by posterity as successful presidents.

There are other serious problems that need urgent attention of our leaders as well. The government must jump start the Balochistan peace negotiations, find long-term solutions to rehabilitating and bringing the jihadi elements of south and central Punjab in mainstream politics and take comprehensive measures to resettle the people of Swat and tribal belt as soon as peace returns. If the leadership rises to address these problems people will respond positively. This may appear as a tall order but if the democratic government shows resolve there is no reason why we cannot succeed.

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