Leadership, and the curse of public sentiment

Published: May 10, 2011

We are left with a leadership that tells us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear.

In a recent electronic address, Pervez Musharraf announced that he is a sayyid. The desperate, attention seeking former president spoke of his visit to the roof of the Holy Kaaba from where he shouted out slogans in the name of God.

Taking a seeming U-turn from his long “enlightened moderation” stance, Musharraf went on to announce his support for religious organisations. Without his army resources, this is how he thinks he can win hearts – not sure about minds.

He isn’t wrong, because this is how people play politics in Pakistan. They use emotions based on religious thought to persuade their listeners.

Hypocrisy in the name of religion sells.

Too often, I hear that the leadership has not considered public sentiments while making crucial decisions regarding the fate of Pakistan. I think it is time to remind people that public sentiments have nothing to do with democracy, or any other form of government. Democracy requires a majority vote for a leadership that can make independent decisions, certainly not influenced by public sentiments, for the larger interest of the country instead of momentary relief. A crisp direction and a vision that inspires the people is required from the political leadership.

Instead, in Pakistan the political and military leadership end up following the route defined by the masses. The general population is fast losing its grip on moral and social concepts and ethics and no leader seems to care. The religious leaders and clerics continue to make issues out of non-issues and the moderate leaders are too afraid to speak. Extremists have chosen to shoot whoever dares defy their thoughts. This leaves us with a leadership that tells us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear.

Every society requires a balance to survive. Sustainability demands that a country have conservatives, liberals and a sizable portion in between. General Ziaul Haq killed the secular essence in the once liberal army. Organised hypocrisy was introduced through paid beards and recruitment through recitation of the holy script. With time, the secular forces of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Awami National Party and the Mutahida Qaumi Movement lost weight because their leadership refused to take a bold stance on any matter remotely related to religion. They caved to public sentiments instead of shaping them. This essentially leaves Pakistan with one, religious extremist voice with a pinch of elite rebels.

The Parliament’s inability to unanimously condemn the murders of Governor Salman Taseer and Federal Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti speaks volumes about the culture that has developed in Pakistan. Both these gentlemen were outspoken critics of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law and were faced with death threats by militant organisations. Yet, they did not let popular sentiments define their judgment. Even the Chief of the Army staff avoided publicly condemning the killings because he did not want to create unrest within army ranks. The ability to ask questions has been shredded and religion has been left with a narrow interpretation of a few.

The problem is not to define who is correct or not. The real crisis is the eradication of the grey area. People have started thinking in black and white, leaving no space for development of logic and arguments. When talking on issues of grave importance, like the blasphemy laws and breaches of Pakistan’s sovereignty, President Asif Zardari has a very mild and unimpressive tone when talking in Pakistan. However, the president tends to write very strong and inspirational pieces in The Washington Post. This open hypocrisy clearly sends out the message that the only target of this government is to complete its term and nothing more.

samir.butt

Samir Butt

A former Youth Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Fulbright undergraduate scholar, freelance writer, public speaking trainer, IT consultant and marketing professional. He blogs at samiranwar.net.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fahad Raza

    First of all, the leadership in “political” spectrum which you discussed is YES all about getting support an then in the name of “Situation/Scenario” diverting from the original so called promises. So are we blind, deaf and dumb to go after anyone in this age of media? Their is no simple answer to this as we see and hear but we tend to ignore in the name of Hope. Hope makes us optimistic and we forget the we were cheated by the same person.
    This is the flaw in democracy where heads count not brains. It will be a painful analogy but we are all rats following the pied piper then falling for a cliff because here, We ELECT not SELECT our leadership.
    Lastly as I read somewhere (can’t remember) leader is the one with 3 Zs. A person working with ZEAL, ZEST and is at ZENTH. Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    First of all, the leadership in “political” spectrum which you discussed is YES all about getting support an then in the name of “Situation/Scenario” diverting from the original so called promises. So are we blind, deaf and dumb to go after anyone in this age of media? Their is no simple answer to this as we see and hear but we tend to ignore in the name of Hope. Hope makes us optimistic and we forget the we were cheated by the same person.
    This is the flaw in democracy where heads count not brains. It will be a painful analogy but we are all rats following the pied piper then falling for a cliff because here, We ELECT not SELECT our leadership.
    Lastly as I read somewhere (can’t remember) “leader” is the one with 3 Zs. A person with ZEAL, ZEST and is at the ZENITH. Recommend

  • Zubair

    The use of religion to steer or control public sentiment is not a new tool. In fact, it’s one that is in the top drawer of almost every political leader who has ventured into the public domain or likewise, any military leader who has made such a foray. Mind you, we as a people, have never been adept at defining (or rather defiling) the fine line between religion and state. Just a quick glance at the Objectives Resolution and the Islamic Provisions of the 1973 Constitution would send any rational mind into a tailspin.
    Indeed, religious political parties have a long history of blackmailing people for support. For example, the MMA in the 2002 elections asked for people’s votes in the name of the Quran. Now, people are being blackmailed into supporting the killers of the late Mr. Taseer and Mr. Bhatti using the same half-baked ideas that are sold as divine truth. The religious right and its apologists – both in uniform and in the media – work on the lines of the Italian Mafia: “You hit me, we hit you”. Unfortunately, not many politicians and average Pakistanis have the moral courage to stand up to them. They would rather cower behind closed doors.
    The point about turning non-issues into issues is very true. Non-issues such as Veena Malik’s exploits in India take precedence over the fact that, globally, every 10th child who doesn’t go to school is a Pakistani. I wonder if this thought will resonate with even a handful of people.
    Where the rubber meets the road: If we don’t speak up now, one by one all the sane voices will be silenced and in the end there will be nothing.
    p.s. The reason President Zardari’s pieces in the foreign print media are “strong and inspirational” is because they are not authored by him. Ambassador Huqqani and a certain lobbying firm deserves credit for that.Recommend

  • http://bakwasism.blogspot.com Abdullah Zaidi

    Then again, is completing the term such a bad thing? It requires a lot for such moral and practical (I emphasize practical) to come about. If we have blasphemy law, India has sedition law. I guess the only answer to all of this is to allow the institutions to take place of amoral leaders. Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/#!/needroos Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    Our national assembly is a venue for terrorist sympathizers, such as members of the JUI to use the floor of the house to pray for people like Osama Bin Laden, yet remain silent for their murdered political leaders. We are in a race to the bottom. Lets hope someone can stay around to apply the brakes. Recommend

  • khan

    So now we have Mullah Sayed Pervez Musharraf !

    The serious non-event of the APML has shattered his dreams of relying on ordinary citizens to get him back in power, so now he has begun pandering to the religious mafia.

    I wonder what all those so-called ‘gazillions; of ‘we love Mush’ facebook supporters make of this? Recommend

  • parvez

    You remain one of my favourite writers on this forum. You started this article off with a bang and I hope Musharraf reads it an looks at himself in the mirror. The picture painted does seem hopeless.Recommend

  • atif

    Syed Nadir El-Edroos> whoevr is in the assembly are chosen by people, respect democracy.Recommend

  • seeker

    your comments about zardari reminded me an article published in the foreign press about Benazir, whose reference used to irritate her a lot”THE TWO FACES OF BENAZIR”she was also blamed for her double standards inside and outside the country.Does it run in the family?

    One thing that should be cleared before we proceed, who forms the public opinion?do the politicians build it.politicians just use it,it is the duty of the religious leaders, intellectuals, media men, writers to develop awareness about issues. When people will be awared about their rights and clearly defined priorities, it does not matter you count them or you weigh them the result will be the same.
    .
    Alas!this group is yet not ready to pay the price of delivering the truth Recommend

  • Moderate

    @Atif Democracy is Pakistan is not ‘democracy’Recommend

  • Talha

    Are you related to the ‘Burger Revolutionary’ who famously quipped, ‘agar hume police mare ge to hum inqilaab kaise laen ge”.

    Btw, great post, its on the money.Recommend

  • muhammad adnan

    after reading yr first line i simply quit reading cuz i dont think u live in pakistan or have any idea… i have listened to each and every interview address of Musharraf.. and this one too…

    He said peopple are spreading false propaganda that Musharraf is QADYANI… this was his response to that.. u elimated the question and posted his answer.. what a lame writer u areRecommend

  • Talha

    Musharraf is an odd man, now he is a Sayyid, tomorrow he will be the grand Pir of Karachi.

    These people make me laugh.Recommend

  • Talha

    Add Shortcut Aziz as the Grand Fakir of Karachi to Musharrafs Grand Pir.Recommend

  • sajjad

    **Absurd, Totally Biased Article

    haha haha this is the standard of our articles and newspapers.

    How we can say you have clear unbiased opinions and commentaries ????????

    Musharraf has not said it for the first time he claimed it during his power many times

    This shows your biased and uninformed capabilities** Recommend

  • rida

    Not only are leaders not condemning the assasination of Taseer and Bhatti – they are praying for Bin Laden! In the National Assembly! What kind of country is this? Who cares if the US told us about Abbottabad raid or not – its all the same.Recommend