Pakistan: A Crisis Of Leadership


When a state’s leadership selects a foreign venue to discuss its domestic issues instead of its own state, one can imagine the level of political instability and the sheer intensity of mistrust between political leadership and state institutions. The recent meeting of the PDM leadership in Dubai in anticipation of the general elections raises several questions about the state of Pakistan’s democracy.

On the other hand, Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis. In the upcoming decade, there are no visible chances of economic betterment or durable stability, a reality that Pakistan’s recent stand-by agreement with the IMF will give relief from only for a short while. Along with this tattered economy, Pakistan is undergoing a serious political crisis, making instability seem endemic to Pakistan.

The state of the economy is ultimately governed by political decisions. When there is insufficient consensus over political matters and a trust deficit prevails between political parties and state institutions, the consequences are political turmoil and economic fragility. Therefore, it is the politics that drive the economy in Pakistan’s case. In contrast, geoeconomics usually emphasizes that the economy drives politics, which can be true when the political machine allows the economy to function somewhat stably, letting economic factors play out. You can’t operate in a world governed by geoeconomics when you have to work with near perpetual political instability.

Since its inception, Pakistan has faced a leadership crisis, and no politician has been ultimately successful in presenting long-term policies for the collective upliftment of the nation, and as a result, Pakistan’s economy is on the ventilator. The so-called democratic political parties, which are run by dynasties, have only promoted their family’s economic and political interests and have carried on with the policies made by their predecessors. Pakistan’s political parties have no real capacity to make strong and sound decisions. Most of them are politicians because of their families, not capabilities or public support.

Pakistan’s political parties are full to the brim with personalities who supported martial law and have routinely sought the military’s support to come into power.

Over Pakistan’s history, prior movements for political stability and democracy were run for self-interest and preservation of political parties, benefitting only some families or individuals. None of them were actually meant to bring about major political and economic reform. The Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) was formed in 1977, and the primary objective of this coalition was to run a political campaign against the left-wing Pakistan People’s Party. The alliance performed very poorly in the 1977 election. As a result, Zia-ul-Haq imposed martial law and the country was ruled by a military dictator for a decade. In 1981, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was formed, and ultimately failed to have any significant impact outside of Sindh.

Both the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) were formed to achieve political parties’ interests, not the national interest. The PDM stands almost dissolved. All the member parties have largely gained their interests and now, will symbolically remain united till the general elections come around and will resort to the usual infighting and jostling for power.

One can raise the question: if these aforementioned movements were actually aimed at political stability, then why couldn’t Pakistan’s politics stabilize over 75 years, and continues to be in a horrid state today? Pakistan’s political parties are full to the brim with personalities who supported martial law and have routinely sought the military’s support to come into power. Ironically, they claim the state as their personal plaything for five years. They formulate an improvised strategy for how to pass their tenure and strengthen their personal accounts and build their own fortunes. Patronage and clientelism reign supreme in this feudal free-for-all.

Both military and civilian leaderships through Pakistan’s history are responsible for the egregious state of the country.

Pakistan’s political parties have been governed by their narrowly defined short-term goals, and have never sought to create meaningful dialog about long-term collective national objectives. The paucity of genuine leadership is the real crisis in Pakistan. It is the origin of all other crises. This is also the leading difference between India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan today. In our peer countries in the region, politicians feel a responsibility to the nation beyond their own political gain and enrichment.

From Nehru to Modi, Indian political parties have largely sought to strengthen Indian economic and political power. There is a reason that India is the fifth largest economy in the world today. On the other hand, once Pakistan’s breakaway Eastern wing, Bangladesh is now the second-largest economy in South Asia and the 37th-largest economy in the world in nominal terms, whereas Pakistan is on the verge of default.

The military has cumulatively ruled Pakistan for almost 30 years in total; the rest have been at the mercy of civilian leadership. Neither leadership has sought to formulate effective, long-term policies to strengthen the economy, or to equip the nation’s youth with skills, or to build a broad industrial base and an export-oriented economy. Both military and civilian leaderships through Pakistan’s history are responsible for the egregious state of the country.

Patronage and clientelism reign supreme in this feudal free-for-all.

Notwithstanding, this fragile economy, the country’s political elite is unwilling to let go of their ridiculous perks and privileges, estimated at over $17 billion annually. Politicians, bureaucrats, generals – all employees of the state whose job it is to work in the interest of the nation and its citizens – enjoy jaw dropping luxuries. Today, a Pakistani general, judge, or politician are paid more than bureaucrats and political leaders in advanced economies.

The only option for the economy to stay afloat is for the country to continue to get bailout loans from the IMF which is not a permanent solution, and will have dire consequences for Pakistan’s long-term growth prospects. No one in the country’s judicial, military or political elite is ready to curtail their own luxurious expenditures. One can only wonder if the Pakistani leadership is really serious about overcoming the serious political and economic challenges facing the country today. Maybe their plan is to let it all burn to the ground and retreat to their villas on the French coast while 240 million souls languish in the face of economic ruin and climate change caused disasters. The future looks bleak until our elite chooses otherwise.__The Friday Times