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For the love of the chair


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In most civilised countries, heads of state take on a dignified role once they leave office. They start humanitarian work, help in policy formulation and act as ambassadors of their country. In time, the citizenry starts to look upon them as father figures. One sees a president with as chequered a record as George W. Bush cheering at baseball games and the once-reviled Tony Blair employed as an ambassador of peace. This statesman-like behaviour by former heads of state serves to embellish their legacies and also helps erase their faults from the collective memory of the nation. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.

Needless to say, no such tradition exists in Pakistan. Not surprising, since a crucial prerequisite, the tradition of leaving office voluntarily, is also missing. The troubling reality is that in recent history, our heads of state have been invariably forced out of office. In fact, over the last 40 years, we don’t find a single instance of the de-facto head of state leaving of his own accord. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged, Zia died in a plane crash, Benazir and Nawaz Sharif twice each had their terms cut short and Musharraf was forced to resign under the threat of impeachment. Undeterred, the lucky ones who leave with their lives intact, immediately begin weaving webs to plot their return.

To the unsuspecting eye, the sure-footedness that ties Pakistani rulers to their seats of power is an open-and-shut case of self-serving greed and lust for power. After all, such behaviour pervades the society at large and if it exhibits itself in the corridors of power, it should not raise eye brows. But there’s more to that than meets the eye.

It seems that our rulers have seen the end that met their predecessors and internalised it. They have resigned themselves to the fact that exile, incarceration or death is the fait accompli inextricably tied to their jobs. To avoid that fate, in their estimation, they must keep their jobs. It’s as if the hanging of Bhutto hangs like a noose over their heads. Given the bloody history of power politics in Pakistan, who would blame them.

Such a conclusion may also explain the lack of restraint our leaders have shown in committing what we refer to as “high crimes” in common parlance, such as subverting the constitution or breaking the oath of office. The punishment for these crimes should be enough to deter a prospective offender, but for some one who sees his own survival at stake and is already resigned to an unceremonious exit, no deterrent is enough. Survival is the most basic of human instincts, and if one sees it threatened, respect for law is the first thing that goes out the window.

Another feature of our heads of state’s behaviour has been the “messiah complex” they seem to carry. While it is hard to pin down the root cause of this complex, it seems a by-product of sycophantic advisers and the desire to attach a higher purpose to their actions. This reinforces their power-lust and primal fears, and we have a full-blown case of “powerophilia” on our hands. It suffices to say that taking power from them is a tad tougher than taking a candy from a kid.

While our rulers may have deluded themselves into believing that their fate is sealed if they are ousted from power, the reality is that their actions have made this a self-fulfilling prophesy. If for once, they listened to the call of their conscience and abided by the constitution they vowed to uphold in letter and spirit, they will find that the people and history itself is very forgiving.

The winds of change are blowing once more and the rulers, secure in their house of cards, seem oblivious to it. Their exit, in due course, is written all over the walls. Only they can not see it. It would be foolish to assume that they will voluntarily cede power and listen to the voice of the people. The NRO, which ushered them into power is there no more. If ever there was a regime that needed to be in the corridors of power to be safe, it is this one.

One can only hope that when it is time for them to leave the seat of power, they quietly pack up their bags and head to the seemingly safe shores of exile. While it is true that justice is the best deterrent and one would love to see it in action, any one who has studied our recent power-transitions knows that is a dream too far.

The dream of seeing a smooth, seamless succession of power is even farther.


Irfan Waheed is an engineer working in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Irfan Waheed is an engineer working in Austin, Texas.

He can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (10) Closed

hamza Nov 30, 2011 04:30pm
Your analysis is unfortunately incorrect; a Head of State is not the same thing as a Head of Government. The Head of State represents the state officially and on all legal and official documents; the Head of Government is the democratically elected Prime Minister who heads the government, ie Parliament. You are confusing the two. Benazir and Nawaz Sharif were Heads of Government; the Heads of State during their respective tenures include Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Farooq Leghari, and Rafiq Tarar. Army Chiefs were Heads of States as their official capacity as de-facto leaders of Pakistan, but even Musharraf did not become a Head of State officially until his failed Summit meeting in India. Many Heads of State in Pakistan have stepped down voluntarily therefore. While I agree with what you've written, it would be prudent to be aware of political nuances before expounding upon them and misleading others.
shabha Nov 30, 2011 05:48pm
Parliament is not the government nor the Prime Minister heads the parliament.
Irfan Nov 30, 2011 06:10pm
@hamza, That is why I used the qualified term of "de-facto head of state"
Hamid S. Bokhari Nov 30, 2011 06:16pm
Intelligently written of history of power hungry people who have no conscious and respect for the country and its people.
Agha Ata Nov 30, 2011 07:25pm
Blame the religious scholars and Mullahs for this. Let me explain why. God has 99 names. Most of them are kind names, like Merciful, Rahim, Kareem, Sattar, Raziq ... . But these scholars have stressed more on the POWER of GOD, and not on His Love, compassion, forgiveness. They talk more of fire and hell and punishment that God can give. Men tend to follow their God. Everybody loves power (CHAIR), and doesn't even stop to think of compassion and love and forgiveness. Even Christians realized this when they stop talking of Hell and Fire, and started preaching His love. "God is LOVE," Hindus say that. Why can't Muslims stop cursing and asking God to send their enemies to hell, and start talking something more beautiful? That can change the whole mindset of treating their fellow countrymen.
Waheed Nov 30, 2011 07:32pm
Any act of war in a Muslim country is perceived in the West as the extension of ‘Islamic terrorism’ but in any other country such an act is seen as a political dispute. Why must such dual standards of justice prevail in this day and age? One really begins to wonder if there is an undercurrent of hatred for Islam beneath the apparently calm surface of Christian civilization. Is it perhaps a hangover from centuries of Crusades against Muslim powers or is it the old wine of the orientalists’ venom against Islam served in new goblets? The idea that Islam was spread by the sword is highly questionable. The wars of Muslim governments should be judged according to the prevailing principles of politics and international relations and not on the basis of religion.
malik Nov 30, 2011 08:19pm
Please lets not shoot the messenger,lets look at the message and move on and contemplate on the next steps. The point is well made, it makes you think and it should get people to come to a solution. Everyone leaves this world,no one person(human) is everlasting. We all know our short comings as a Pakistani and a so called Pakistani muslim. We know what the Quran and Hadith say. We need to stop before we all are stopped either by our own greed (like nations before us), another power or AST. We need to differentiate between right and wrong, the after life and what we are supposed to do in this world which is a test run only. Think of the poor people, the injustice that we do to each other, what can our assets do for us when we are in the grave. You don't have to be a religious person to think straight, that is what differentiates us and the animals.
Khalid Dec 01, 2011 07:06am
Pakistan is yet to see a good leader after Quaid.
sja Dec 01, 2011 09:02am
Interesting headline ---- for the love of the chair ---I think the saying goes that all is possible under love and war --- what a travesty to give example of Bush leader of a nation 235 years in the making and Blair leader of a nation with 1000 years plus history ---- those who descend from the leaders who dare break a country and you expect miracle of and advice to someone, 'They start humanitarian work, help in policy formulation and act as ambassadors of their country."" we are a broken nation of 67 years with no destiny apparently so let the love of the chair prolifer someday somebody may take up on your advice it is too premature for our leaders to follow the leaders you mention -----'
Adnan mukhtar Dec 01, 2011 06:08pm
The important point being not mentioned is the perpetual and persistent civilian military conflict. The civilian effort to regain the primacy in politics and defining the policies in defence, foreign relations and economy and the military adamancy in retaining that privilege which should not have been theirs to start with. This struggle is the root cause of many sins that abound in our politics. The struggle to wrest the constitutionally defined roles is not easy. Bhutto, nawaz sherif and benazir struggled against establishment defined rules and in turn Bhutto was hanged, nawaz exiled and benazir assassinated. The desire to hang on to the power may also be seen in the context of this effort to gain the civilian control over the national policies.