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On leadership


November 27, 2020

History bears testimony to the fact that only those nations became prosperous in the past, and even transformed into great empires, which were blessed with selfless, courageous, visionary and dynamic leadership. Under ordinary rulers, even highly vibrant nations don’t progress because they are only average managers. It is, therefore, rightly said that “management is prose and leadership is poetry".

Great leaders are blessed with vibrant minds which have tremendous capacity to expand with the flexibility to acquire maximum knowledge. The best way to achieve this is by developing the habit of reading, which encourages creative thinking.

Threadbare analysis too has its own value. We must learn to speak to silence to comprehend the right course of action. Great leaders have always been the kind that will meditate. Apart from all this, gifted leaders also have another tool for taking speedy lightning decisions through intuitions. These are called aligned decisions which combine the identity and personality of the leader, and their values and vision.

Analyses are based on information and knowledge which has its own limitations as it can either be incomplete or may be wrong. Intuitive power, therefore, is a gifted virtue which surely demands wisdom, balanced approach, and power of convictions. In such cases, a leader surely takes a political risk which is worth it. For eg, Jinnah left Congress for the Muslim League, created a state and became its first governor-general. Such leaders were not only well read and good writers but were also blessed with gifted intuitive powers.

Our real misfortune after the Quaid’s demise and Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination has been the crisis of leadership. In my politico-military career since 1966, I have seen so many leaders – some closely and some from a distance – right from Ayub Khan to date. My observations are: first, our leaders do not even fully read essential official mail, which is part of their duty. Their principal secretaries, grade-22 officers with very limited statecraft exposure, are in fact de facto CEOs of the country. However, based on my personal experience as military secretary (MS), I would like to give credit to Benazir Bhutto who used to religiously do file work personally every day in the afternoon Her instructions were that all her intelligence mail be put up to her through the MS and not the political or principal secretaries.

Second, barring a few politico military leaders, most of our presidents and PMs could not even comprehend the strategic intricacies of mega foreign, economic, defence and internal policy issues. Third, reading for knowledge and personal enlightenment has been a far cry for almost all our leaders. In fact, their hand muscles might have experienced serious muscle twists if they tried to venture into the abnormal activity of writing even a few pages.

So how to proceed further? Undoubtedly, the best solution for Pakistan is a democratic republic with a parliamentary or presidential system as may suit us. For this, we need to develop our institutional strength so they can effectively perform their constitutional obligations. At present, the ruins of our parliamentary system, the truncated judicial edifice and the beleaguered executive authority are our major grey areas which are further being compounded due to the absence of a visionary central leadership.

It may be pertinent to mention here that America, in their over 200 years old history, never had any authoritative dispensation except for five years in Japan under Gen Douglas MacArthur. It is paradoxical that in those five fruitful years MacArthur concentrated on building strong deep-state institutions on which the structure of present-day’s modern, democratic and economically strong Japan was constructed. The popular and ideal concept of trichotomy of power will only deliver if the essential state pillars are strong enough to not only carry their own weight but also lend much-needed requisite strength to overall statecraft. Take, for example, our parliament which is mainly filled with filthy rich electable and one third mostly untrained and uninitiated nominated women of mostly ruling families.

The judicial system with thousands of pending litigations, faulty system of selection of judges and weak prosecution is long awaiting much needed judicial reforms. The executive branch, mainly consisting of inexperienced cabinet members with vested interests and pooled from rejected parties, is heavily dependent on a politicised bureaucracy whose competence has sharply been eroded over a period of time and which warrants immediate civil service reforms.

I sincerely feel that today we are left with only one credible institution which is intact – the institution of the armed forces. Although no one can deny the heavy baggage of past martial laws, that in my humble opinion is undoubtedly a collective baggage of the entire nation. Without full political support, legal aid, abounding and at times unfair judicial verdicts, public appreciation and even international support, such regimes could never have been possible.

This national baggage in which the military establishment played a pivotal role in the past notwithstanding, the armed forces are still most respected because of the unwavering strong faith of the entire rank and file in the ideology of Pakistan. This generates amazing will to fight. There is also immense professional dedication, honesty of purpose and merit oriented postings /promotions which provide opportunity to all to become service chiefs. Fingers get raised in some top slot promotions only when political executives get involved in deciding promotions as their constitutional obligations, and they miscalculate by mingling their political ambitions with the services' pure professional needs. Ultimately, only a vibrant, balanced, honest and visionary leader can retrieve Pakistan from this present situation.

The writer is chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defence Production.