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Default Imran: a risk to take - 01-05-2012, 09:36 PM

We are told it is not brains that matter most in a leader but that which guides them – the character, the heart, generous qualities, and progressive ideas. But surely all these traits shape the future of most men, not only those who aspire to lead. Yet, political leaders affect our lives a lot more and in our context today, how well they will perform when in power is a matter of deep concern. We know all about two of the three main contenders for the high office because we have seen them in action. However, the third, Imran Khan, is very much an unknown phenomenon.

There is a Yugoslav proverb which says, “If you wish to know what a man is, place him in authority.” But what happens when the man placed in authority fails to perform wisely or well and ends up doing irreparable damage. Sadly, we have seen this happen in Pakistan and, ironically, it also led to the undoing of the former Yugoslavia when they placed Milosevic in authority, who wrecked the federation by trying to impose Serbian dominance over other ethnic groups. In our case, it was Yahya Khan who did us in. Clearly, therefore, as history has shown in so many other cases, handing over authority to someone ill suited to wield it can prove lethal when you are unlikely to get a second chance to repair the damage.

But what option do we have in Pakistan today where mediocrity is so rife that legislators of even average intelligence stand out amongst their colleagues. Many governors and senators have to be seen to be believed. A cultured vice chancellor in academia has become as much a rarity as a literate newspaper publisher. A financier genuinely steeped in the discipline of economics is as exceptional as a labour leader interested in the problems and challenges of the labour movement.

In the political arena, we know that two of the three serious contenders for authority today fell disastrously short in their performance. We barely survived their spells in power, more thanks to providence than anything else. Of course, Mr Zardari still has a few months left to sink us deeper, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.

The third one, Imran Khan, rightly rouses concern because he is untested and brash. True, he has been pressing the right buttons in the run-up to the next election, but all that can change as the months drag on. And even if he continues to do well, there is a big difference between being a good candidate and a good leader.

It is easy, when in opposition, to excite people by shouts of “inqilab,” promising to eradicate corruption and transform society; of ending the war, and so on. But such high-pitched promises have proved false in the past and could happen yet again.

Nevertheless, in our peculiar circumstances Imran offers a better prospect than the others. To the desperate masses he brings hope and, even if his performance falls short, to the more cerebral lot, he raises expectation that, unlike Mr Zardari, he will link authority with progress and positive change, not merely with his own security. Besides, having beaten seemingly impossible odds on earlier occasions and to have got as far as he has what’s there to say he can’t do so again? Although, of course, running a cancer hospital is very different from governing Pakistan today. Just look at cricket itself in which he once excelled. Imran was lucky he was a captain before the rot set in and that he made it even as an erratic rookie in earlier and much better times.

But in the end we have to make a choice based on what we have on offer and backing Imran Khan is a risk I am prepared to take. And I would hope that even if he manages a big election victory he should not allow others to fire from his shoulders and he would not get tribal or feudal with his mainstream political rivals. We have had enough of that hysterical drama in the past.

His political future success, if he succeeds well in the election, will depend significantly on those two things. And of course on something else – his personal performance and his ability to run a team without stooping to the petty and often vindictive level, like the great Bhutto, who got carried away by his popularity, and our cultural tendency towards authoritarianism.

There are some troubling signs. Turncoats from other parties, for example, are being accosted and welcomed. While this is understandable to some extent, there are quite a few of dubious quality. By saying defensively that he can’t find angels, Imran Khan misses the point. If men were angels no government would be necessary. But some of them have such a record of opportunism that they will not be true to him, the party or the public.

True, brisk competition is part of the game of politics. But one hardly expects such ruthless indulgence from the leader of the “new Pakistan.”

Imran has promised policy papers and a manifesto for the party. But a large chunk of the populace is illiterate and, as we know, those who can read manifestos will manifestly not. In any case, making policy is the easy part, getting it implemented will be the real test.

And the one instrument for implementing policy, the civil services, is in complete disarray. Just about every human ill afflicts them. Corruption and “speed money” and people who delight in doing nothing and to say “nothing can be done” abound.

Imran will also discover that he can run the government without his ministers but not without the secretary and the secretary’s secretary. The bureaucrats will resist change and innovation. They will find “a difficulty for every solution” and they know how to take “good ideas and then quietly strangle them to death.”

Merely tweaking the way the bureaucracy works will not do, as Imran plans, by leaving it to the Federal Public Service Commission to ensure that merit prevails. Even the FPSC cannot prevent the likes of Mr Rahman Malik from getting outstanding reports by obliging officers and their penny-pinching wives.

As for providing justice, to which his party is sworn, the less said about the prevailing justice system the better. It’s a mockery and a snare, as those that have recourse to it will readily confirm. The rules of procedure and evidence not only give the accused the benefit of the doubt, they ensure his acquittal. And, when all else fails to get the murderer off the hook, a well directed threat to the judge suffices for most of them.

The current justice system is single-handedly responsible for the creation of the Taliban; and for ensuring that in Pakistan today crime pays, and so do lies, deceit, obfuscation, etc.

Imran also needs to turn his attention to our population growth which is still among the highest in the world. Our cities and towns are tearing at the seams and it has put our limited natural resources under unbearable strain. At a time of global climate change we simply cannot afford to ignore it.

We also urgently need a new perspective. Both our internal and external quarrels haven’t changed much over the years, although the world has phenomenally. Prosperity now requires regional cooperation. For that alone, we should move away from the power politics of the old world and increasingly focus our attention on refurbishing our frayed society by attending to real life problems, such as water, energy, infrastructure, education, essential social and public services, prisons, courts, police stations, etc. That dark chasm will account for us pretty soon if do not.

Of course, these are early days and we wait to hear more from him. Till then our vote is his to lose.



The writer is a former ambassador.

Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

Imran: a risk to take - Zafar Hilaly


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