Thursday, December 27, 2007

Re-inventing the Sharif Brothers

By Dr. Haider Mehdi

“Like piano players,” wrote a distinguished scholar, “leaders also need to be adept improvisers, willing to set aside their scripts and listen for signals, follow their instincts, and imagine a future that has not yet arrived.”

Imagining a future that has not yet arrived is what Pakistan’s contemporary politics is all about. Our future demands revolutionary changes from the political status-quo that has prevailed in this country for the past 6 decades – and from the anticipated political future, where the present political dispensation will continue after elections should the Musharraf-Benazir team be at the helm of political affairs. In a coalition government, the Sharif brothers’ role as leaders of a major political party (not as members of Parliament) will have to be defined as outrightly revolutionary.

This is how they will politically survive and contribute to the nation’s well-being in the volcanic future that awaits Pakistan, starting post-elections. Failing to reinvent themselves as such, the Sharif brothers will become lame ducks, as good as dead, politically. Musharraf’s 8-year rule, resulting in deformed political institutions in the country, has put the Sharif brothers in the spotlight. Being the leaders of the most powerful political party in Punjab, and with a reasonable following throughout the country, the burden of responsibility for revolutionary democratic change in the political landscape of Pakistan and its power structure rests squarely on the Sharif brothers now.

But the question is: Can they handle it? Are they capable of doing the needful and save Pakistan and its people from another impending future political atrocity? Are they aware of the historical role that has been entrusted upon them by the turn of events in the country? Can they honor their own commitments? Do they understand the demands of civil society? Can they comprehend the lawyers movement? Do they follow in earnest the constitutional damage that has been inflicted by removing the Chief Justice of Pakistan and other judges of the apex courts? Can the Sharif brothers deliver to the masses what they demand? Can they conceptualize the difference between minor changes in the status-quo and revolutionary change? Are they politically competent to enact ground-breaking changes in Pakistan’s polity? Are they politically proficient enough to take on the challenges and constructively confront grave dangers that confront Pakistan now and after the elections, should the present political structure prevail? Are they able to differentiate between political managers and political leaders? Can the Sharif brothers re-invent themselves and transform their political role into revolutionary leadership?

In the historical and evolutionarily political context, the Sharif brothers can be best described as political managers. During their stance of power, they worked to preserve the political status-quo, pursued business-friendly economic policies, maintained the traditional rhetoric of promoting political and economical stability, enfranchised military with more economic and institutional power, remained faithful to the historical foreign policy linkage to the US and the West, and did not do much to enact fundamental changes in the power-structure and in the decision-making processes of the country.

In addition, many close associates of the Sharif brothers saw their main faults as being remote, dictatorial and disinclined to listen to the concerns of the party and its allies. There was a common perception that a “Kitchen Cabinet” invariably prevailed in all national and provincial political decision-making. It was in this context that decisions were made to appoint Rafiq Tarrar as president and General Pervez Musharraf as the COAS – in a unilateral decision-making anti-democratic mind-set.

In re-inventing themselves, the Sharif brothers will be required to transform themselves from political managers (which they have been so far) into political leaders (which they need to be to survive politically in future Pakistan).

Political management is a process that gets the work done through others. It involves planning, organizing, leading and controlling, which are critical steps in the process of getting the national agenda accepted. It is an essential component of an efficient state organization, but it is not a substitute for political leadership.

Political leadership, on the other hand, is fundamentally a different notion and involves a different set of dynamics. It involves developing a vision, an ability to influence others, creating willing followers, an appreciation of situational appropriateness, and consistent and constant communication with all levels of society (examine the present political regime in Islamabad in this context to understand the lack of political leadership in Pakistan).

“Perhaps… the distinction between the two perspectives is that managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right things.” Leadership involves strategic and tactical skills in innovation and change, and constructive and productive dealings with national political turbulence. Political managers rely on authority and positional power to maintain so-called economic and political stability and pursue the status-quo. (Progressive democratic regimes do not impose a state of emergency or martial law. -- Again examine the incumbent administration in Islamabad in this context and see its recent failures.)

Political leadership, on the other hand, is the art of influencing others, adapting to the situational circumstances, effectively energizing followers, listening and using feedback, creating multiple channels of communication and recognizing public opinion in the making of national policies (it is evident that the present political establishment has failed on all of these accounts). An effective political leadership, in absolute essence, alters the political status-quo.

Can the Sharif brothers alter the decades-old political status-quo in Pakistan now? Can they stop relentlessly harping on the need for so-called economic and political stability as a cover-up for the reactionary and regressive politics of successive military dictators, civilian regimes and traditional right-wing politicians? Can they suspend the politics of fear imposed on the nation in the so-called “war on extremism and terror”? Can they terminate the nature of the contemporary American connection with Pakistan? Can they put the military back in the barracks? Can they restore the judiciary to pre-November status? Can they influence the followers and invigorate the voters? Can they heal the sufferings of Pakistani masses? Can they give an alternate model of economic development? Can they provide a new VISION? Can they engineer a White Revolution in Pakistan -- symbolizing a part of the nation’s flag and the metaphorical purity implicit in the name of the country (just as the Yellow Revolution signifies peaceful revolutionary democratic transformation in Kyrgyzstan by people’s power)?

These are the million dollar questions that only the Sharif brothers can answer. Due to the fact that the elections have not been boycotted (which they had pledged to), the task of national reconstruction and re-habilitation will become far more difficult and problematic.

And yet, the Sharif brothers can re-invent themselves to meet the challenges – but it needs imaginative vision and a departure from the politics of status-quo.

Will they do it? Time will be the judge.

“…leaders are like contributing members of an improvisational jazz group. The musicians carefully listen to each other and use the interplay to create new directions.” The nation awaits the Sharif brothers re-inventing themselves!

But will they? That is the real question…!

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