Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Past present: In the middle

August 05, 2012

When political change, chaos and disorder in the country is discussed, a debate follows about the decline of political leadership. Decline is always compared with socio-economic and political development in the society which raises the question whether Pakistan has ever enjoyed mature leadership.

History may help us understand the root cause of the decline of political leadership in Pakistan.

In the subcontinent, the Indian Congress and the All India Muslim League produced two main types of leadership. The Congress included members mostly from the middle class who wanted to establish their position in the colonial structure. Therefore it accommodated all people, irrespective of religion or ethnicity.         On the other hand, the All India Muslim League was founded by and confined to the Muslim feudal class and consequently, a non-secular and anti-democratic approach to politics emerged.

After 1947, the Congress continued provision for people belonging to different religions, holding different ideologies and  attracting talented people in its fold. Hence, there is no dearth of leadership in India.

On the contrary in Pakistan, the Muslim League closed its doors to religious minorities and remained dominated by the feudal class. So from very beginning, politics was controlled by the mediocre. The early leadership may have been mediocre but was not financially corrupt. Liaquat Ali Khan and his successors had no vision of building a new nation and miserably failed to solve controversial issues while the provincial leadership was involved in constant intrigues to humiliate their opponents. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy was talented and brilliant but failed to play an active role in politics.

Why has mediocrity flourished in Pakistan? One of the reasons is the domination of feudal and tribal lords in politics and their stronghold in their representative areas or constituencies so that nobody could ever challenge them in elections. As sajada nashin or inheritors of Sufi saints, their disciples blindly follow them. Under these circumstances the feudal, spiritual and tribal families have always controlled politics without any question of talent and merit coming forward. The mere criterion of belonging to a privileged family has always been more than enough.

This domination resulted in the exclusion of other classes from politics, especially the educated and professional middle class. Since all parties are jagirs or properties of either landlords or tribal leaders, the middle class never had an opportunity to achieve top leadership of a political party nor to participate in politics.

Government servants are not allowed to become members of political parties nor do private organisations allow their employees to get involved in political activities. Hence it is an open field of play for landlords. Once the middle class is barred from politics, it loses interest in changing the society, becomes depoliticised and focuses on employment and career.

As the character of Pakistani democracy is feudal, political parties follow the hierarchy. In elections, the leader of the party decides who will contest elections. Unlike advanced democratic countries where parties bear the cost of election; in Pakistan, the candidate initially pays a huge amount as donation to the party. If selected by the chief, the contestant bears all election expenses. The involvement of heavy finances completely rules out the participation of the middle class in elections.

Landlords and tribal leaders are not well-educated, rely on the loyalties of their followers and are involved in financial corruption because they spend huge amounts of money to win elections. Their feudal character is evident in the parliament where they support legislation that promotes or protects their interest.

If the same system continues, there will be further deterioration and decline of political leadership in Pakistan because of the lack of competition from other socio-economic classes. To achieve real democracy, feudalism and tribalism must be abolished which will allow talented people from different classes to emerge. As long as the tribal and feudal classes dominate, the middle class will remain too weak to challenge their political hegemony with no hope of any  change in the near future. People will have no choice but to vote for the existing, dominant parties and will consequently suffer under their mediocre and corrupt rule.