By Saad Hafiz
The ‘Naya Pakistan’ project led by Imran Khan has fizzled out. It promised a political renaissance and a radical break from the past methods of governance. It failed despite the anti-corruption and pro-justice mantra.
The cost of such an experiment was high. It fell prey to overconfidence, self-interest, factionalism, tension, and conflict. It exposed the limitations of autocratic and impulsive leadership.
Z.A. Bhutto suffered a worse fate. The mass appeal of his populist slogan, “roti, kapra aur makan” (food, shelter, and clothing) could not save him.
Yet, people’s pent-up desire for a transformational leader will not end with Khan, as abysmal governance draws them to hope and miracles. “A leader is a dealer in hope,” said Napoleon Bonaparte.
However, future transformational leaders must learn from Khan’s experience. It takes a rare talent to inspire, not inflame, followers. Capturing, subverting, and compromising state institutions using militancy and violence is a high-risk strategy. A leader cannot bank on charisma, vote bank, and charged followers alone. In fact he must work towards a common cause with other democratic forces for success of the country.
It is difficult to predict when another transformational leader and mass movement can capture the people’s imagination. A peaceful vision to transform the state and offer a better future takes time and effort. The campaign has to operate under tight parameters to be successful.
The future mass movement promising change has to ensure maximum and sustained participation. It must include diverse people from all strata of society. The campaign must elicit loyalty shifts among the establishment without resorting to violence. It has to work as a cooperative enterprise serving collective interests.
A leader not acceptable or connected to the elite is probably a non-starter. Elite capture is a general feature of politics worldwide. They are drawn disproportionately from privileged classes and groups.
The campaign tactics must comprise variations in methods of civil disobedience. It would need the blessing of the obscurantist religious right or at least not oppose the Islamist agenda. Historically, progressive grassroots movements have not thrived in Pakistan, primarily due to state repression. Unfortunately, these overriding ground realities limit change in Pakistan.
State repression is often inevitable when campaigns call for drastic changes. Militant tactics in the face of repression risk playing into the hands of the state. It is more than likely that the superior coercive power of the state will triumph over street power.
A major obstacle to transformational experiment is the establishment. It will want a safer bet while retaining its right to make or break leaders. A transactional leader with modest objectives, who can maintain, rather than change, the status quo would fit the bill.
But the establishment has to be careful because its choice could put it at odds with the populace that wants genuine change. The popular mood is rife with anger, resentment, and grievance. It will not tolerate band-aid solutions for the poly-crisis that the country faces. Chaotic governance, economic implosion, and social deprivation need sweeping reforms. Cosmetic tweaks to a broken system will not work.
The yearning for a transformational leader who can challenge Pakistanis to think beyond their personal and partisan interests remains strong. Honesty, decency, integrity, and courage are vital for such a leader. The country does not need more cleavages and divisions. A peaceful and systemic revolution for the good of the country instead of destructive politics is the need of the times.
This article was published at The Friday Times