Pakistan’s Leaders

Ardeshir Cowasjee is the doyen of Pakistani opinion-makers having been around forever as the leading light of Dawn. For many years now, with great regularity, Mr. Cowasjee has been making a seemingly provocative statement on behalf of Mr. Jinnah. For some reason, this statement has sparked no discussion whatsoever.

Here is one version of the statement as expressed in his column of May 25, 2008:

“That man of great perception (there were no others to follow him) our founder and maker, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, once prophesied shortly after the making of his country, realising the calibre of men and women around and about him, that each successive government of Pakistan would be worse than its preceding one. This prediction, made 60 years ago, has been eerily correct, and continues to be so.”

Every time I have read this statement I have been plagued with doubts. Does Mr. Cowasjee really mean what he says or is he just trying to be provocative? How can Mohammad Ali Jinnah be a man of great perception if he realized only after the making of his country that the caliber of the men and women around him was such that each successive government of Pakistan would be worse than the preceding one?

Perhaps no one has picked up the argument because there is no way of knowing if the attribution to Mr. Jinnah is true or not. But either way, the statement is quite damaging to the reputation of Mr. Jinnah. If he led his troops into the battle knowing the poor caliber of his officer corps, it could be considered an act of irresponsible adventurism. If he did so believing the contrary, it was fatal error of judgment.

It was for the first time that I noticed the latter interpretation in Mr. Cowasjee’s column of July 20, 2008:

To repeat, and repeat, also ad nauseam, Jinnah once predicted, undoubtedly with sadness in his heart and a self-admittance that he had not got it all right, that each successive government of Pakistan would be worse than the preceding one.” 

From a man of great perception, Mr. Jinnah is portrayed now, for the first time, as one admitting that possibly “he had not got it all right.” Perhaps Mr. Cowasjee wanted someone in this massively populated country to reach that conclusion on his own and raise it as an issue to be discussed much like it would have been in any other country. Perhaps he is now convinced no one ever will and has decided to say so himself.

There could, of course, be a third possibility. It could well be that Mr. Cowasjee is wrong, that Mr. Jinnah never said any such thing, and that the “caliber of the men and women around him,” while not up to his own standard, was not all that bad on the average. It could well be that there is some completely different explanation for the subsequent decline in the quality of leadership.

This kind of a sharp decline is not unknown in history. One can take the 300-year Mughal rule as an example. Everyone knows the names of the six emperors who reigned during the first 150 years. It would be difficult to recall the name of any one of the almost two-dozen kings who sat on the throne during the last 150 years. Only the diehard fans of classical music would know Mohammad Shah (Rangile) and lovers of Urdu poetry would recall Bahadur Shah (Zafar), both with immense gratitude for the heritage they have left us.

Whatever the reason, and we should certainly search for an explanation, there is little doubt that the slide in the quality of leadership in Pakistan has been precipitous. It has been a very steep decline from a brilliant barrister with an international reputation who might have made one fatal mistake to most of those who have followed till what we now have is a veritable shipload of fools unable to get a single thing right.

Pakistan has turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory achieved at huge human cost to many who had to move to new homes, to most who became the ‘other’ where they stayed on, to those who had to suffer yet another partition, and to all who never made it or got caught in the continued cross-fire in Kashmir. To what point? To be inherited by a cast of bumblers who promptly began to run it aground, sunder it in many pieces, starve its people, and turn all the lights out?

The ship is headed for the rocks. We know that the leadership has failed; even to call it a leadership is a travesty. And there is not even a silver lining unlike the brilliant cultural renaissance, the age of Ghalib, that accompanied the decline of the Mughal’s but would outlive all its follies. Our present decline is arid and grotesque and painful. Mr. Cowasjee would do us a service if, instead of telling us the obvious, he would enlighten us on what went wrong. And why? And when? And what is to be done?

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  • ali sohail
    Posted at 14:07h, 24 July Reply

    How do we measure the quality of leadership.

    Through success or ability? most generally success.
    I fail to agree, that there existed only one Einstein or Newton, there must have been many, but the appropriate channelisation, opportunities, luck, results and fame were only achieved by the named few.

    Would Imran khan have a different fate than Inzamam, if Pakistan hadn’t won the 1992 world cup, or would have been kicked out in the early stages, without the associated luck?

    Is leadership a stagnant concept or an evolving one?
    just like institutions need to evolve to sustain and maintain continuous levels of progress and achievement, so do human leaders. The action that would lead to positive leadership results in 1946-48, would certainly not replicate to 1970-72. Hence, it is success not action, and the prescription for success is a relative concept. Further, action needs to differ based on the surrounding reality.

    Can a high quality leader under one circumstance, be placed into another circumstance or situation, and still achieve results of high quality leadership?
    rarely ever, since context and environment specific understanding and ability to work with the system is vital, which needs time, openness and a learning environment.

    Can a success of a CEO under one company, be replicated by the same CEO is another company? rarely ever. to quote a domestic example, pia is a case study on interest.

    Is leadership quality a subjective or objective reality?
    extremely subjective. Churchill was not acclaimed in great spirits, during most part of the lifetime and beyond, but certainly things seem to have changed upon the after.

    Good or bad leaders?
    A measure of perception, for some ‘Alexander the great’ for others vice versa.

    Further, since our comparisons of the notion of leadership quality are based on leadership success- superficial or real? even the best of us can fail? therefore, education, experience, and pre-success are only proxies, are they even good ones? soo what constitutes high quality leadership?

  • ali sohail
    Posted at 14:13h, 24 July Reply

    what constitutes high quality leadership?

    Broadly: open mindedness to reality and surrounding, continuous learning and knowledge (this has nothing to do with education in the academic per say), and most importantly the willingness to THINK! ..and thinking doesnot translate into pure philoshopy but action! with its due share of luck.

    Doctrination of thought, practice and surrounding coupled with the on-going pursuit of the first best mindset are not the traits an individual should wish to uphold, if wanting to achieve the success of high quality leadership, as reality and action should surely be relative concepts.

    A balance between strong soft and hard skills, in a context specific enviroment are vital. therefore, do we have a empirical prescription? unlikely!

    I’m told, a good reference book on leadership is:
    The Powers to Lead by Joseph Nye

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 17:57h, 24 July Reply

    Dear Ali Sohail,

    There is another way of looking at this issue in practical terms:

    1. Suppose the Indian Cricket Board has to choose a new captain for the test team. Would it pick any member of the team at random? Would some members be considered better choices than others? If so, on what basis?

    2. Are you happy with the quality of the Pakistani leadership today? If not, why not?

    3. Should we pick anyone as the leader of Pakistan? If s/he succeeds, we would know s/he was a good leader. Can you take such a gamble with the fate of 160 million people? Or is it an obligation to pick the best candidate possible?

    4. We are not living in a tribal society anymore when any smart individual could turn out to be good enough leader. In a global, highly specialized world, certain basic competencies are required in a leader who has to negotiate the best deals on behalf of his or her country.

    5. In reading an article about China, the following sentence attracted my attention: “Citigroup and HSBC have extended their finely honed leadership-training and -development processes and systems to China.” Why is leadership training needed? I suppose to maximize the chance of success. I guess it is considered prudent to choose correctly and invest in preparation rather than leave the outcome to chance. The outcome may still turn out to be negative but that is not an argument to not do the homework.

  • ali sohail
    Posted at 19:00h, 24 July Reply

    I completely agree! I think my note was mis-understood.

    *My note was based on specifying the complexity of the reality, trying to work and expand through leadership theory unfolding the different possibilities of outcome attainable (with a degree of paradoxical reality from within our hindsight and result) rather than stating a judgement or a conclusion on current or historical reality.

    surely, training and homework is vital, and correct me, if i noted otherwise. we live in the world of probabilities and we need to reduce risk to as minimum as we can. surely!

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