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Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Strong Ledaership Myth

Original Article: Daily Times
Date Published: April 19, 2012

Try engaging people and you hear the common and prevalent gripe — Pakistan needs a strong leader. We will bring one and all will be hunky dory. Then we will all live happily ever after. If strength is the only prerequisite for a leader, then we have had our share of the so-called strong leaders all along. Whether we chose them or not, they were in front of us, staring at us and throwing their full force on us. Each one of them came to fool us, to take us to that utopian world of sweeping reform and unmatched accountability. These were people with unlimited power and barely had any obstruction in their way, yet they left us in the same, if not worse, lurch.

This concept, almost mythical, is in fact a false one. Sadly, if you look around the Muslim world in general, you will find the same abyss, what I consider is the Muslim world’s ‘tribal mentality’. We still tend to live in the old age where a tribal leader used to call the shots. The leader was considered supreme because denouncing him meant the kiss of death. You look around — the Muslim world is replete with such iron-fisted leaders who gave little to their people, or for that matter, rarely felt any need to be answerable to them.

If history is one of the most enlightening institutions, then Chairman Arafat, President Mubarik, Saddam Hussein, Colonel Gaddafi, President Haffez al Assad, and King Raza Shah Pehalvi are fitting examples to reflect and seek some precious insight. For the sake of brevity I will stop at this short list, but it illustrates the point I am trying to make. As someone very aptly said, “Leaders are dealers of hope.” Then reflect on what kind of hope these leaders injected in their respective nations. Most were authoritarian despots and gave little credence to the will of the majority. Again, the same tribal mindset perhaps predicated their decisions. Did they leave their nations yearning for someone just like them? If the answer is still unclear then I rest my case here.

I may vehemently disagree with the former president Bush, as he did not earn my vote twice, but I do agree with him on at least one thing. As flawed as his response may have been to 9/11, but he did sow some seeds of change in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The critics call them puppet regimes. I humbly disagree. Repeatedly, on various occasions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, people have lined up for hours, against threat of attacks, and exercised their right to vote. With all the kinks in the system, one cannot easily disregard the progress these nations have made towards a transparent system. Israel is the staunchest ally of the US in the Middle East. Yet until this day, the US has not been able to install a puppet regime in a tiny nation like Israel. Despite the friendly relations between the two, both strongly disagree on many issues.

Those who dismiss it all as a malicious attempt to introduce the American way of life in the Muslim world, need to be questioned about the following. Were the Taliban and Mr Hussein practising the true Islamic way of life in their respective nations? Why is freedom to choose your leaders and to have a system of participatory form of government considered an American phenomenon? The argument is so hollow that it is absolutely ludicrous. The educated class that criticises the role of uneducated people being futile in any such process actually insult the intelligence of a vast and vital majority. The desire to improve your life and the life of your loved ones, based on a free and fair system, is not American, but rather universal.

Granted the system itself is not perfect; there are flaws, there are inequities here and there, but even the best of the democracies go through their evolutionary process every day. The process is a thriving system, which fosters creativity and innovation through practical ideas. The citizens band together to improve, day in and day out. Disagreeing almost on everything, yet respecting the will of the majority. Much like life, there are highs and lows every day, yet all of this is necessary to engage the electorate.

So in essence, leaders are not supposed to be perfect or strong. Leaders ought to be pragmatic. These are people who have a vision, yet are very cognizant of their surroundings and limitations. They encourage the consultative approach and feel the pulse of the nation. They put their nations on a strong footing by creating opportunities for all, leading to well-fed stomachs and bright minds with loads of positive energy. These are the telltale signs that a real leader is at the helm of a strong and thriving nation.

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