Dear Nawaz Sharif: By Ending Dynastic Succession You Will Make History
You must be relishing the fact that you are the locus of all hope for the anti-government and anti-establishment sentiments in Pakistan since the July 2018 elections, but you must be informed that the only way you can bring these hopes to fruition is by ending your dynastic hold over your party.
I understand that you have been thrice Prime Minister of Pakistan, have intimate relations with powerful leaders of other Muslim countries and, of course, are rich beyond imagination. I am also familiar with the common refrain that your party relies on you for all their votes. However, I am also aware of how you first became PM with the help of the Army and Islamic parties as detailed in the Asghar Khan case, and how you tried to serve your intimate friends by trying to become Ameerul Momineen during your second premiership. I am also acutely cognizant of your last ditch effort to save your third premiership by presenting yourself as a secular leader in your speech at the Katas Raj Temple. All in all, while I consider you to be an awfully lucky, brave and independent man, I doubt you are familiar with all the rules of the game.
Accordingly, I outline ten basic and universal principles of politics and political leadership for you that should lead you to the same conclusion as stated in the first paragraph.
- Certainty: Ordinary life can be random and chaotic but politics deals only in certainty. A politician must be absolutely certain of his own ideals for which he is willing to die, or, for that matter, kill. If you are not certain to this extent, you are not a politician but merely a glorified bureaucrat. For the same reason, when you feel that any of your principles was wrong, you cannot just adopt a new one; you must step aside and make way for someone with the right principles. Think Neville Chamberlain resigning in favour of Winston Churchill as the British war-time prime minister.
- Legacy: A leader is known by his legacy regardless of his actual performance, and his most important legacy is his successor. If you fail to raise a successor in your own image, you have failed as a leader. That is why the fratricidal Mughal Empire did not leave any political or cultural legacy to speak of except some useless displays of wealth. Conversely, while former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has been living an unceremonious life after retirement, his jurisprudence has enlightened all his successors.
- People do not forgive an impostor: Most people are docile and ignorant but they never forgive being made a fool of. In other words, a politician can ignore the ordinary people and their demands only as long as they are unable to figure out the secret rules of power politics, but when even one of them comes up with the goods, you can only listen to and obey the people or go home after making vain attempts to suppress them through violence. For example, you may consider every single civil and military ruler in Pakistan’s history. Even Jinnah paid for trying to be a smart aleck in his 11 August speech that went contrary to his populist campaign promises.
- Arms-length dealing with clergy: A politician should always show respect to but never play in the hands of religious scholars. Such mollycoddling always results in enactment of majoritarian religious laws that make one popular in the short term but destroy the very foundations of the state structure in the long run. A politician, like a King, must always be secular. Once again, Pakistan’s own state and society are a living proof of the damage that such ingratiation can cause. It is only for divinely ordained prophets, gifted as they are with infinite wisdom and authority, to establish a Kingdom of God, but for no one else.
- Only people can save you from downfall: There are many routes to the throne – secret and public, short and long, accidental and methodic, violent and non-violent – but once there, there is only one power that can keep you there: the public opinion. Whenever your hold over power is threatened, you must take the people in to confidence and ingratiate them with development and welfare projects and the threat would just fizzle away. Once again, never be fooled by the apparent ignorance and docility of the man on the street.
- Incremental progress: A ruler should seldom take any revolutionary step unless it is based on consensus even among his opponents; his primary job is to incrementally rationalize the state structure and develop the physical infrastructure, one step at a time.
- Reverse engineering: A political party must have a long-term vision – its biggest dream – that goes beyond the immediate interests of its current leader, and this vision must be implemented relentlessly by thinking backwards to the existing reality. For example, if you want to get Kashmir, you must be able to envision and stubbornly work for what your country would look like when you have got Kashmir (for example, do you want to beat India in a war and thereby take Delhi along with Kashmir, or do you want to develop economic and diplomatic leverage at the international stage that makes it prohibitively expensive for India to hold on to Kashmir?).
- Never buy a judge: A politician should never try to buy or intimidate a judge, even if his opponent does. Rather his entire focus should be on hiring the best lawyer and giving him all the information that he needs. There are several reasons for this: a sold-out judge always exposes himself when he writes his judgments, which can be easily reversed in the court of the people and history, if not in a court of appeal; also, by the very nature of their jobs, judges are usually able to see both the truth and the power and they always try to balance the two keeping in view the public interest. In other words, the end result remains the same whether one buys a judge or not, or whether the judge is Muneer or Cornelius or Iftikhar Chaudhry or Qazi Faez Isa.
- Always plan for the weakest link: No matter how powerful and popular you feel, you must not take any action to satisfy your own ego or that of your friends and relatives or even supporters; rather all your policies and projects should be designed from the point of view of your weakest and poorest citizens. Otherwise, anything you do will subject to relentless criticism leading to your downfall sooner rather than later.
- Always remember the Machine: A ruler should always remember that he is just one cog – though the most prominent one – in a vast machine that we call the “State” or “Government”, in which the most he can do is start the domino/snowball effects. In other words, he should always aim to do small things that have big effects over the state and society rather than try to do something big and impossible.
You must have realized by now, Mr Nawaz Sharif, that throughout your political career, you failed to follow eight out of the ten principles stated above. From the very beginning, you failed to deal with the clergy at arms-length. In 1998, you failed to remember the Machine when you tried to become Ameerul Momineen. Your development plans have never been for the weakest link and you have never promised anything grand like taking Kashmir or 100% literacy rate. Similarly, when the Panama scandal emerged, you tried to ignore it thinking you have all the judges in your pocket; but when the matter did reach the Court, you showed uncertainty by trying to become a secular leader, and turned to powers other than the ordinary people to save you. Naturally, you were exposed as an impostor who now effectively stands retired, to say the least.
However, you did do two things right in your career: incremental progress (motorways, nuclear tests, abolition of secret service funds, metro, orange line, etc) and raising a successor or rather three of them: Shehbaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz, and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
The time has come for you, Mr Nawaz Sharif, to pick one who you think will best carry forward your legacy, and take retirement. Moreover, it is also patently clear that your rightful successor is neither Shahbaz (not brave like you) nor Maryam (not independent like you), but Abbasi (who is both brave and independent like you). Indeed, your party might have won the 2018 elections if you had made the right choice of successor then. In any event, there is no doubt now that Abbasi is the only way forward for you, for your party, and for your country.