An assessment of leadership failure in Pakistan

Political leadership in Pakistan can be placed in four distinct categories: honest and competent, honest and incompetent, dishonest and competent and dishonest and incompetent. Honesty can be judged by following indicators: keeping up promises (constitutional or electoral), upholding principled stand in the face of narrow group or party interests, preferring compliance with ethical norms of public office over unfairly earned financial gains. Competence can be gauged using the following criteria: clearly defined political objectives, agenda, programme and strategy; and effective strategy implementation.

Recent Supreme Court judgment over violence in Karachi has placed Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarian (PPPP), Jamaa’t e Islami (JI), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM ), Awami National Party (ANP) and Sunni Tehrik   (ST) in the rank of competent and dishonest. These parties are competent because they play the power game really well.  All of them except for ST have sizeable vote bank which has entitled them to a share of power for long stretches of time over the last three decades. They also have a strong power base due to close links with filthy rich land grabbers in Karachi and business and feudal elite in rest of Pakistan. They have been accused by the Court of having their own militant wings that collect rent from businessmen and ordinary citizens.  So far only Jamaa’t e Islami has contested this judgment but not yet challenged it in the Court.

It would be unfair to keep Pakistan Muslim League –Nawaz (PMLN) out of this category. PMLN’s leadership came to corridors of power in the lap of notorious military dictator General Zia ul- Haq after his military take- over in 1977. It does not have a militant wing but its leader Mian Nawaz Sharif has the singular “honour” of commercializing politics in Pakistan by introducing horse- trading (purchasing loyalties of parliamentarians to form and dissolve governments), patronizing turn- courts (called lotas in local parlance), Lifafa Journalism (handing over envelopes stuffed with cash to journalists) and using political office to build their financial empire. Their former partners and present Pakistan Muslim League (Q) can also be placed in the same category using the same criteria.

Pakistan People’s Party ,Shaheed Bhutto (PPP-SB)) led by the widow of Benazir’s brother Murtaza Bhutto and Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan can be placed in the category of honest and incompetent. They symbolize a sizzling idealism without any feet on ground. If previous elections are any indication, then PPP-SB has one Provincial Assembly seat and PTI one National Assembly seat to its credit. This indicator could be questioned on the grounds that future belongs to them as their idealism might strike a chord with youth who now constitute 50% of Pakistan’s population. However, they don’t seem to have any strategy to dislodge well entrenched constituency based politicians with the help of youth in coming elections. They don’t have any clearly spelled out programme to steer Pakistan out of its political and financial ills. What is worrying is not that the honest and competent are losing out to the dishonest and competent but the fact that dishonest and competent are rapidly deteriorating into dishonest and incompetent. They are unable to control the genie of violence which they have got out of the bottle to lay their claims on the spoils.

Can we expect the honest and competent to emerge from the ashes of the failed political leadership? Should we still keep our faith in phoenix. Only Pakistani voter can answer this question.

(Author lives in Islamabad and can be reached at

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