No room for ugly leaders in Pakistan

Published: October 19, 2010

Do we choose leaders based solely on their charming appearances?

The other day I met someone (a prominent bureaucrat) who gave much credence to appearances. He insistently equated good looks with competence.

Although he did not say his opinion was swayed by colour bias, his comparison of top Pakistani and Indian politicians makes me think there was a prejudice favouring our “tall and handsome” leaders against gnome-like ones across the border. This form of judgement, in my humble opinion, is a typical Pakistani trait. It shows that we still regard someone with clear skin and certain facial and physical traits as fit to lead a nation.

Unattractive but effective

Consider the founder of the Non-Aligned Movement and the first president of Yugoslavia, Marshal Josip Broz Tito. Or the former general secretaries of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev. Or British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Or former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan. Or former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Or former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Or American inventor Thomas Edison and the 16th US president Abraham Lincoln. Or South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. No one in their right mind would call them good looking at all. But the world doesn’t remember them for their good looks. They are known for what good they achieved.

Tito provided the cohesion for the now-defunct state of Yugoslavia. Brezhnev was one of the few people who kept the Soviet Union kicking and alive and kept the mighty US at bay. Thatcher, the tough-talking ‘Iron Lady’, was the first woman to lead a major Western democracy and a nuclear super power. She reshaped almost every aspect of British politics, economy and foreign policy. Greenspan was, according to a Time biography, the architect of “the longest economic expansion in US history”. Kissinger pioneered detente and orchestrated the opening of US relations with the People’s Republic of China. He is credited with doing so much in so many countries in so little time all over the world that it appears almost super-human. And Vajpayee! The poet-statesman who led pro-market reforms, brought it under the American umbrella and the man who provoked Pakistan into becoming a declared nuclear power. No one needs to remind anyone about the achievements of Edison. He is one of the few geniuses who ever graced this earth.

Our good looking leaders

Our leaders, be they political or economic, civilian or military, have almost always been at least photogenic (with the exception of General Ziaul Haq. And by the grace of God, we were spared the agony of him laying claim to the title of ‘field marshal’ for “destroying” the Soviet Union). Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto (PPP rhetoric notwithstanding), the Sharifs (the elder and the younger both), Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari and even former president General Pervez Musharraf have all looked good in print and on screen. Even their cohorts, like Agha Shahi, Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, Junejo, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Ghulam Mustafa Jataoi, Shah Mehmood Qureshi had good faces. That’s all the good that I can ascribe them.

Do good looks equal good leadership?

They were and are not good to the people at all. At least, not like Lee Kuan Yew, who established Singapore’s economic ascendancy, or Mahathir bin Muhammad, the founder of Malaysia’s rapid modernisation, or even Sheikh Muhammad, the ruler of Dubai, who created heaven on earth, at least for his own people.

We all should remember that when people of all kinds of faces work together, they are capable of rising up against injustices, like what happened in the American and French revolutions. Such unity can bring about the Long March which heralded the formation of the People’s Republic of China. Such harmony can lead to the creation of global empires.

Discrimination based on looks shows that most of us are still steeped in the colonial mindset of divide-and-rule. This will not allow us to rise above parochial boundaries.

We need to realise that unless we institute merit, work in unison and without any discrimination, our nation cannot rise above the rubble these people with good faces have meticulously ruined.


Ghouse Mohiuddin

A geologist by education who has been a journalist for over 20 years. His articles have been featured in various English language dailies and journals since 1984. He is a strong advocate of personal freedom. Ghouse is currently working at The Express Tribune.

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

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    Was this bureaucrat sight for sore eyes himself?Recommend

  • faraz

    According to wikipedia, Kissinger was regarded as a sex symbol! Recommend

  • Assad Khan

    what a ridiculous load of tripe. Recommend

  • Umair

    Useless peice indeed!!!!!Recommend

  • Mariam

    I think you are generalizing your opinion about Pakistanis. Not all Pakistanis think like this. They have voted for many no-so-good-looking leaders. Recommend

  • parvez

    A shabby attempt at belittling us. Why chose this subject to do it ?
    What about the Americans. An American presidential candidate has to be very presentable,
    looks wise, on TV otherwise he’s toast. Example of toast : Dukakis (don’t remember who beat him) his problem was not that he was super smart, it was that his ears stuck out. Recommend

  • Fatima

    I agree with Mariam.
    Leaders should be acknowledged for their idea,vision,credibility,managerial capability and not mere looks.

    However, psychologists do mention that what you think apparently comes onto your face. Vibe, aura etc.
    Also,where will u place Jinnah in the equation? who by far was one hell of a good-looking sub-continent politician.Recommend

  • Ahmer Ali

    Assalam-o-Allaikum Warahmatullah.You are right and the most accurate according to your standpoint but please would you like to clarify that did you ask present PPPP’s leaders about it who have a lot of NRO certified and corrupt leader,ministers and bureaucrats in their cabinet?If you ask them you shall definitely be threatened of any mishap in your life with you.Recommend

  • Shoaib Abbasi

    good looking leaders work sometime… if opponent is like conda lisa royce lol…Recommend

  • Ahmed Iqbal

    if not just good looks, we Pakistanis for sure fall for charismatic personalities. An important trait is for them to be fair skinned. Other than Ziaul Haq (who forced himself on us) and Altaf Bhai, majority of our ledership has been fair skinned. Altaf bhai without doubt has charisma and knows how to mesmerise the public.Recommend

  • Ahmed Iqbal

    @Ahmer Ali:
    where did NRO and corruption come in from?Recommend

  • Mani

    Oh Lord – even for a blog this was tripe. Belonged in the bog.Recommend

  • Farhan

    Hahaha – this is a pathetic excuse for a newspaper. Recommend

  • S. Ali Raza

    Awwwww.. you must have angered Imran Khan’s followers for not mentioning his name with the “Good Looking” leaders… This is all he’s got for them ;) Recommend

  • Ishaq Narejo

    Very bad blog. I like BB and Zardari.Recommend

  • Amna

    @Ahmer Ali: Altaf “bhai” is a drama queen. Charismatic not so much. he plays the ethnicity and victim card pretty well thoughRecommend

  • Amna

    @Ishaq Narejo:
    Is this only because you are sindhi? or because you actually care for a decent Pakistani leader who will work to make Pakistan a better place to live? Something tells me it is just because you are sindhiRecommend

  • Shah


    Is it that time of the month for you? You talk trash about the MQM leader and PPP supporter, do you have any choices? is there anyone you support? It is easy to be critical/ Let us see you cards.Recommend

  • Murad

    Dear God, that’s another wasted few minutes….. really theres a lot happening to write about!Recommend

  • Neeraj, India

    Good looks are surely an asset. Initially, at least, it creates a positive impression on others. But, to sustain the good impression, one has to be inherently beautiful person from inside. As a victim of a good looking person, I can tell you this with a conviction. I would like to share my experience with you.
    On my first day at the job in a company ( still with it ) I was introduced to my colleagues, by my seniors. Everything was normal till saw this girl! I couldn’t believe my eyes, she was stunningly beautiful! Gorgeous face and body of a model! But, within few days I realized that almost everyone in the office hated her. Initially I thought that male colleagues were hating her because ‘ghas nahi dalti’ and females out of jealousy.
    Couple of months later I committed a huge-huge blunder. I was assigned to the financial division and it was badly understaffed, therefore, a staff meeting was held to reshuffle the work force. It so happened that the ‘beauty’ had a degree in commerce and I was offered her as my assistant!! Boy! Could I refuse her? No way! But, that was the day I rued for more than a year.
    Soon it dawned on me that she was an ill tempered, bad mannered and believe me foul mouthed girl. But, as her immediate boss, more or less, I was immune from her wrath. For me the real nightmare was her laziness and incompetence. As we were dealing with financial transactions of the company, utmost care was needed and she was utterly careless. I was already under tremendous pressure because of shortage of manpower and she was committing disastrous mistakes after mistakes. But, what angered me most was her utter lack of remorse. I couldn’t admonish her enough because she was a girl, a beautiful girl!
    If, had a man been in her place I would have made him cry, but, here I was scared of her tears! I endured more than year of nightmare. For me, her beauty vanished into thin air and whenever I saw her, my blood boiled for entirely different reasons!!
    Therefore, buddies, a beast could be lurking behind a beautiful face!Recommend

  • Amna

    @Shah: Firstly, I did not talk trash about the PPP supporter. I asked him a question. Secondly I do have my own political views, and I do actually support a party. Not any of the useless parties in power that have proven their worthlessness time and time again.

    And lastly, “Is it that time of the month for you?”- how mature of you. I can not even get myself to take you seriously.Recommend

  • Amna

    @S. Ali Raza: considering the list of “good looking” leaders the writer has presented, which includes Zardari, I think Imran Khan has been honored to not be grouped with them. He is too good for Pakistani politics anywayRecommend

  • Ahmad Fuad

    Hahaha…. Good Analysis… It is just unfortunate that we have such people around but we do.
    Just a wild idea, I think, there could be a reason of appreciating such leaders that Mr. Jinnah was a very handsome and Good Looking personality and additionally I would say, we like those leaders who are not fluent in speaking Urdu & very good at speaking english, Just like Jinnah. And the nation wants to see another Jinnah unintentionally but unfortunately none of them has such talent and will to bring change.
    Analysis is really good, by the way…Recommend

  • Ghausia

    I personally find Lincoln very dashing, and Nelson Mandela very genial and sweet. Okay, so Musharraf has a mild smart person look to him, lets face it people sitting in our government are seldom intelligent at all. But the other names you mentioned? Zardari? Benazir? Mr. I got a rug and pretend I was never bald Sharif? Really? Duuude it is so sad that you have such incredibly low standards for good looks. Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    Most of them are like that…………charming apperances….Coughs………some female politicians may have this criteria……….:_) I dot know whats the criteria…………cant say anything…….we choose when we have become blind…….thats it……..Recommend

  • Ahmer Ali

    @Ahmed Iqbal:
    Assalam-o-Allaikum Warahmatullah.I respect your reply but one question rises in my mind that when PPPP’s leaders knew that NRO was the biggest committed mistake by Musharraf as he confessed then why did PPPP’s leaders make use of it?Recommend

  • Murtaza Ali Jafri

    um, bro. These are all fundamentally bad looking people. Such low standards are unbecoming. Recommend

  • Bilal Khan

    Seriously….You lost me when you said Zardari was good looking. He looks like a Las Vegas magician or sleezy used car salesman. Recommend

  • Jisoo

    hahahah – man the standard of this paper keeps falling lower and lower.Recommend

  • Shemrez Nauman Afzal

    Does a head full of hair constitute good-looking? Or do we have to conform to subjective interpretations of ‘beautiful’ each and every time?
    Oh woe is me and my desire to obtain a Masters degree in Political Science so that I can do something for my country. I should have gone to Depilex instead :(
    @Murtaza Ali Jafri: I can smell something burning :S aap kyun itna sarhtay hain? kabhi gas leak ho rahi huwee toh dhamaka ho jaey ga… phir loug kahain ge “DEHSHAT GARD DEHSHAT GARD!” Recommend