‘Vacuum Of Leadership’ An Existential Threat To Our State And National Unity
Leadership of a nation-state is not a solitary designation; rather an empowering agency exercised through sharp intellect, compassionate insight and carefully manufactured optics. It requires a broad outlook and assessment to provide direction, preempt dangers, heal wounds, bind fractions and to sidestep fragmentation. Since the demise of Quaid e Azam, Pakistan has been led by a plethora of men – civil and military, democratic and authoritarian – but rarely, if at all, has she been blessed with leaders of great stature. This vacuum of leadership has contributed to stagnated progress and a myriad of social, political, economic and increasingly existential challenges to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
First, it is to be noted that the vacuum is not so much a consequence of missing contenders, rather the inability or failure of these contenders to prove their credentials as national leaders. This is manifested in a number of realities, each darker than the other, none more so than the failure to transform mass attitudes towards impending threats such as a massive population boom, climate change and water scarcity. Not only does Pakistan have a population growing faster than her economy, but she is also the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change according to Global Climate Risk Index, and is now required to run an agriculture based economy with acute water shortages. However, the public policies and national discourse do not reflect the grim reality on ground, which is a damning indictment of her leadership and their inability to lead the masses.
Furthermore, since Pakistan took its plunge into extremism with the Afghan Jihad of 1980s, sanctuary, security and integrated efforts have become imperative to the citizenry in face of rampant terrorism, ethno sectarian conflicts and resultant economic deprivation. However, the state and its leaders have been unable to deliver on this front. This was embodied in the Mach massacre, where the state not only failed to prevent a heinous display of ethno sectarian crime against a minority, but also its leadership displayed insensitivity and crudeness in dealing with the aftermath.
Subsequently, the coarse and ill thought use of the word ‘blackmail’ was not only a child of this aforementioned phenomenon, but also a direct consequence of vile and confrontational political discourse dominating the mainstream media. The political discourse in Pakistan has fast been descending into a mudslinging frenzy of chaos, name calling and personal point scoring. This consequently leads to the erosion of society’s moral fabric, and sidelining of important political issues from the national discourse. It also creates a sense of political drama, which is meant to be enjoyed by the people as an audience, rather than an inclusive political system that is meant to be participated in by the populace as critical stakeholders.
Such toxic national discourse, in combination with divisive policies of the state, ends up promoting fragmentation in the society. This is reflected in the lack of harmony across provinces, brought to the fore by recent debates on the 18th amendment and National finance Commission Award, in addition to irresponsible rhetoric on the construction of Kalabagh dam by the Sindh Government. Such differences can only be bridged through responsible leadership which promotes national solidarity, provides space to marginalized groups and adopts practices bolstering ethnic and sectarian harmony.
To the contrary, the leadership vacuum has afforded space to raw ideologies, half baked experiments and authoritative tendencies, furthered by the security establishment, to paper over marginalization and fragmentation of certain segments of the society. The continuous alienation of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement with high handed tactics, and the fanning of insurgent sentiments amongst the Baluch through FC brutality, exclusive practices such as fencing of Gawadar and inability of the state to spend capitol on human development of the Baluch are apparent consequences of the underlying leadership failure in Pakistan.
Having identified the leadership vacuum, it is only natural to explore its causes and remedies. The principal cause seems to be an absence of democratic leadership culture, along with institutional decline and resultant alienation of the public from the political system. This disconnects the masses from the system, in turn producing a leading elite dependant on state patronage and kinship to stay in power, rather than motivated cadres derived from the masses. The establishment of an aforementioned leadership culture took a somewhat fatal blow with the banning of student politics and hijacking of union politics by cronies of major political parties.
The dynastic nature of politics and role of kinship groups in strengthening leadership ties in Pakistan is also a major impediment to an amicable culture of leadership. The amusing reality that pathways to autocracy and technocracy, through the military, corporations and civil services, at the helm of Pakistani leadership is more accessible to the average Pakistani than established paths to political leadership, through political parties, sums up the bulk of the problem at hand.
Another factor contributing to the leadership malaise is the Patron client relationship holding Pakistan’s system of politics and governance together. The usage of state patronage for personal alliances not only abuses corruptive tendencies within Pakistani leaders, but also deters reform, outcome and ideology based politics among the masses. This ends up depleting the masses of necessary political will and acumen to overturn the dynastic and kinship based brand of politics, in turn enslaving them to the current system and solidifying the same stale brand of leadership at the helm.
The Patron client relationship also impedes meritocracy in awarding positions of leadership in state institutions and ministries, which in turn leads to a continuous state of institutional decay and a culture of non performance within the ministries. Hence, rather interestingly, failure of leadership at the helm initiates a vicious cycle of institutional malevolence through ill motivated appointments to other positions of leadership within the state structure.
The remedies to this malaise deserve an in depth discussion of their own, necessitating more time and space than available currently. However, to list a few, Pakistan must prioritize building up a leadership culture from the bottom up. This can be done through enabling student politics, empowering union and syndicate groups and bringing democracy to otherwise dynastic political parties of Pakistan. Hereditary politics and kinship influences must be discouraged actively. The state must be strengthened, and accountability mechanisms established, to check abuses of state patronage for leadership gains. The national discourse has to be refined and purged of toxicity, vilification and populist rhetoric. Instead, substitution with outcome based political discussions, policy analyses and fact based rhetoric must be carried out. Lastly, and most importantly, inclusion of the masses in the political process must be facilitated and actively bolstered. Democratic institutions, principles and mobilization pathways based on merit must be pursued.
All such actions, while not apparently addressing the leadership vacuum directly, are envisioned to act as initiators of positive influences and promoters of a conducive environment for effective leadership. Such an environment is necessary to nurture the natural leadership abilities of the masses, attract them to the interest and politics of their state and compel them to apply the aforementioned abilities and to protect the aforementioned interests of their nation and her people.