Categorized | South Asian Politics

The Struggle For Leadership In Pakistan

Posted on 31 January 2013 by admin

  Dr. Hasan Askari

  There are many examples of quick rise of leaders in Pakistan. Some appear on the political scene and demonstrate their capacity to mobilize people who seem to look towards them as saviors. They follow such leaders for some time but these leaders do not sustain their commanding position for a long time.

 Dr. Tahirul Qadri is the latest example of such leadership. He dominated Pakistan’s media as well as the political scene for a week and seemed to be the most powerful person who could order his followers to attack the federal government offices in Islamabad. Now, two weeks later, the consensus among the political commentators is that his political standing has slipped downwards.

 In October 2011, Imran Khan’s public meeting in Lahore took the country by surprise. His public meetings elsewhere, especially in Karachi (December 2011) and Quetta (March 2012), were equally impressive. A number of leaders from different parties rushed to join him and he was viewed as the liberator of Pakistan’s poor from domination of rich, selfish and powerful rulers and other influential people. Now, over one year later, Imran Khan’s political graph has gone down and his party faces internal problems as he holds internal party elections. Imran Khan continues to believe that he would sweep the coming elections but the serious analysts of Pakistani politics do not take his claim seriously.

 The quick rise of such leaders can be attributed to a host of factors that have caused acute political and social crises in Pakistan. There is a widespread alienation at the common person level from the political institutions and leaders caused partly because of the poor performance of the federal and provincial governments. The other reason is that a persistent propaganda is being launched against the political leaders and democracy from two sources. There are those who want some supernatural person to emerge and solve their problems because they want the replication of the ideal Islamic notion of leadership as practiced in the earliest days of Islam. Such propaganda is also being done by the people close to the bureaucratic and military establishment who describe the political leaders as being corrupt, incompetent and selfish.

 The periodic remarks of some judges of the Supreme Court and their judgments in a number of cases create the crisis of legitimacy for elected civilian leaders and institutions. The Supreme Court invariably projects the political leaders, especially the PPP-led federal government, in negative terms. It is unprecedented that the Supreme Court removed one prime minister and ordered the arrest and filing of reference against another. Leaving aside the debate on who is to be blamed, these developments have contributed to undermining the reputation of civilian leaders and democratic processes and strengthened the position of non-elected institutions of the state and those opposed to parliamentary democracy.

 The political leaders in power have not done anything significant through performance to nullify the propaganda against them. Their performance has been poor and the people are faced with a difficult socio-economic situation.

 Such a state of affairs creates acute social, political and economic crises in the society and the people lose confidence in their capacity to change their conditions. They feel dis-empowered, unable to control their future. With decline of Marxism and Socialism, religious ideologies give hope to the people and society in search of self-confidence and socio-political identity. In Islamic countries, literalists and fundamentalist Islamic appeals have attracted a large number of people.

 The people’s quest for a leader that will solve their problems creates ample opportunity to those performing in non-political domains to cash their non-political success in the political domain. Imran Khan entered the political domain after performing in sports (Cricket) and societal welfare domain. Tahirul Qadri attempted to turn his religious appeal into political clout.

 With growing religiosity in Pakistan a large number of people view leadership purely in religious terms and want to replicate the principles and structures of the earliest idealized period of Islamic history. Therefore, when any leader like Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan talk of cleansing the society of corrupt people or that only pious people should contest elections or hold power, the ordinary people support it.

 However such appeals do not last long unless one gives a detailed and practical plan of action to create an ideal society inspired by the earliest period of Islam. Both Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have condemned the present political order but have been unable to give a practical plan of action to solve the problems. Therefore, such leaders will lose support if they cannot go beyond criticism of their political adversaries.

 Further, Pakistani politics has changed a lot. A single super leader cannot dominate politics. The success in politics depends on working with other leaders and parties. They have to build partnership and coalitions.

 Several political parties have built a core support for them in the society which does not shift because these parties have worked over time. The PPP, various groups of the Pakistan Muslim League, MQM, ANP and some regional and Islamic parties have an established support base that keep them alive.

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