By Dr. Haider Mehdi
People of Pakistan! Let us, for the sake of deliberation and in good faith, give the benefit of the doubt to Gen.(retired) Pervez Musharraf and accept all of his claims: Yes, Benazir killed herself by hitting the car’s sunroof lever. Yes, she was warned not to hold a political rally. Yes, no state agency was involved in her gruesome murder. Yes, the Sharif brothers went into exile at their own request. Yes, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan was rightfully sacked. Yes, several civil society activists and lawyers deserve to be put in jail. Yes, Gen. (retd.) Pervez Musharraf is the best thing that has ever happened to Pakistan in its 60-year history. Yes, the General (retd.) has given unprecedented economic prosperity and political stability as well as true democracy to this country. Yes, the majority of Pakistanis are extremists and terrorists. Yes, Pakistan’s survival as a nation is dependent on American goodwill and fighting its war on terror. Yes, without the General (retd.), Pakistan has no future. Yes, the General (retd.) is the promised “messiah” and so on and so on.
Having admitted all that is claimed by the incumbent leader, the nation still needs some kind of criteria to evaluate the performance of its political leadership. After all, that is a common process in a democratically-run nation – and the General (retd.) asserts that present-day Pakistan is a true democracy shaped and gifted by him and supported by American benevolence.
Leadership performance evaluations are generally conducted within specifically defined frameworks. General characteristics attributed to political leadership are: vision, willing followers, influence, situational adaptability and communication excellence. These five concepts, though not giving a complete picture, present an underpinning of an effective political leadership. Can Musharraf’s performance be evaluated by the application of these five concepts? Perhaps these notions are too broad and the discussion could be a complex and lengthy process.
It would seem more appropriate to look at Musharraf’s performance within a more specific framework. One such perspective is the notion of charismatic political leadership. Is Musharraf a charismatic leader? Charisma, originally a Greek word, means divine gift, and scholars have attributed such a leader with “having considerable power over followers, especially in times of crisis.” A charismatic leadership is gifted with “(a) formulation of a strategic vision, (b) inspiration and empowerment of followers, and (c) superior articulation and impressive management skills.” Charisma is directly related to a leader’s behavior; it is an ability to tie the self-concepts of the followers in with the nation’s vision, goals, identity and purpose.
The questions are: Has the General (retd.) been able to invoke followers’ loyalty at a massive national level? Has he succeeded in inspiring and empowering the masses? Has Pervez Musharraf been successful in giving strategic goal-oriented visionary leadership to the nation? Has he proven effective in present-day national crisis management by acknowledging the self-concepts of the masses with their national vision, goals, identity and purpose? Has the General (retd.) demonstrated superior management skills at resolving the economic and political problematics faced by the nation? Does he enjoy considerable power over the masses by virtue of his personal behavior and attributes? Has he been able to positively influence the masses at large and provide the civil society in particular with a legendary and imaginative leap in political doctrine or ideology?
Unfortunately, the answers to all of these questions are not in the affirmative. The fact of the matter is that the nation, as a whole, is completely alienated from Musharraf’s political doctrines. Civil society is in turmoil like never before. State violence has reached unprecedented levels. Political chaos has reached unmanageable scales. The nation has been going through one crisis followed by another ever since the General (retd.) came to power some eight years ago. The era of confusion, national disarray and multiple political exigencies is a testament to the fact that the General (retd.) does not possess the credentials of a charismatic leader, nor has he the qualities that inspire people, empower followers or offer a vision, goal, identity or purpose to the nation.
Another conceptual framework in which a leader’s performance can be evaluated is to look at his/her management style. Management is a process of getting work done through others. It involves planning, organizing, leading and controlling, which are critical steps in getting the national agenda accomplished. A vital element in a political leader’s management style is that he/she uses influence rather than relying on authority or positional power to accomplish the desired end results. Concurrently, outstanding national leaders focus on political variation and accommodation of diverse points-of-view, inspire change and deal with national turbulence with imaginative innovation rather than relying on the status quo and constancy – the art of creating national harmony comes out of the craftsmanship to seek concord, congruity, peace and unison out of chaotic conditions -- rather than the other way around.
Once again, unfortunately as it is, the General’s (retd.) leadership has offered none of the dynamism of a successful, innovative management style. The national agenda remains obscure under his leadership. The masses face unprecedented price hikes, inflation is sky-rocketing, the poverty level is increasing and the socio-economic gap in the society is widening. The law and order situation in the country has never been so bad. The national consciousness has been decimated by psychological pressures of oppressive cultural and political trends espoused by the incumbent regime. The nation has lost its bearings over its national identity and purpose by overwhelming capitalistic and foreign-dominated political policies and economic planning. The General (retd.) completely relies on his authority and positional power to alter national institutions, the constitution and the day-to-day running of state affairs. The common people are suffering and in agony like never before in the chronicles of this nation. We have come to live in most dangerous times under the present political dispensation engineered by the General’s (retd.) leadership. It is quite evident that the General (retd.) has not demonstrated the prowess of an outstanding leader in national management. It is a sad and unflattering commentary on Musharraf’s leadership.
The General (retd.) claims that his intentions have been thoroughly noble and conceived in the goodness of his heart and mind – “Pakistan First” has been his symbolic patriotic slogan.
A phrase attributed to an anonymous writer warns: “Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hardboiled egg.”
Albert Camus, the world renowned Algerian-French writer, extensively wrote on the French oppression of the Algerian populous. “The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
On one hand, Vladimir Lenin combined ideological intentions with full-scale political actions by granting independence to Finland in appreciation of their national sentiments at the time of Bolshevik Revolution, without a bullet fired or a Finish citizen killed.
Americans, on the other hand, nearly obliterated by force an entire civilization and population of native American Indians – in pursuit of American national objectives. Ironically, the similar ideology of “the clash of civilizations” is at play in the contemporary political situation focusing on the premise: “accept Westernization or perish.”
There are lessons for the General (retd.) to learn in all of these historical events. Indeed, history is made of actions and not intentions – the General’s political actions have caused permanent and irreparable damage to the national edifice to an extent that it seems most appropriate for him to take an exit from the politics of the country. That would be an honorable course of action now.
I rest my case. The entire nation has to be the jury – in the end, it is the people of Pakistan who will be the judge.
Hold your breath – you may be in for surprises either way…!
The Nation, January 15, 2008