Leadership on Merit, Not Patronage


Pakistan is home to conceivably the finest manpower in the world, it has also been proven many more times over that barring the solitary and unique magnificence of the Quaid we have had a succession of terrible leaders, only a handful can be counted as being above par. One wonders why when blessed with such positive potential on the one hand, we have repeatedly gone down the path of destruction by those whose negative attributes far outstrip their better qualities. The natural emergence of leadership is stunted because we only give lip-service to the merit system, relying mainly on a client-patron relationship to influence the choosing of our leaders, comparable to marriages among blood relations, the mating of similar genes leading to retardation and deformity. Choosing only from the narrow confines of one coterie rather than selecting from the vast reservoir of talent waters down the quality of leadership. This causes frustration among those with aspiration to rise on their merit, the upwardly mobile, causing a talent drain as people leave service or even the country for greener pastures where merit is recognized and rewarded.

Not recognizing merit and giving it its legitimate due is bad enough, worse is when merit becomes a disqualifier. From very early on those with merit are earmarked for getting “special treatment” meant to never let them rise in their profession, unless of course they have mastered the quality of being double or even triple-faced. The system forces people to have dual personalities, one face for your seniors and another for your subordinates. The best Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) can only be written by your subordinates, those who see the true self of the individual, not the contrived one. Blunt people can never be appreciated in our society. For the company commander of an infantry unit there is no better judge of character and abilities than his soldiers, they are the best referees. In the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) a “Mutual Assessment System” is used (or was?) but this is only true in the initial stage, as cadets settle down into military life, they tend to be competitive and jealous, that sullies the purity of the exercise.

Jealousy is the major factor retarding the growth of genuine leadership in Pakistan. Not being able to compete on merit, the envious use all the underhand means in the world to tarring and feathering the target of their envy, transformed usually into deadly hatred. The means do not matter, the end justifies it. Very few people with merit graduate to higher levels, even then they are subject to systematic mean and vicious character assassination. This truly reflects the twisted character and integrity of the pervert responsible for launching the attacks, not to talk about a basic inferiority complex in relation to the person he attacks. Invariably he will use another shoulder, remaining anonymous in the same manner as the person who hides his surname because he did not know his real father. Such attacks are understandable when they are made with the motive of removing competition from the way, in a perverse way this can actually be considered a positive motive, albeit pursued in a negative manner. This exercise in frustration is meant only to destroy the object of hate, becoming more vicious as each attack fails. Many up and coming leaders with great amount of potential have thus been derailed from contributing their actual worth for the good of the institution they serve or for the country at large.

The Pakistan Army has been somewhat spared this merit disqualification syndrome, but not altogether. The evaluation process having become computerized another issue has cropped up, alliterating of records by electronically changing the basic data fed to the computers, the human element subverting the integrity of the machine. Thankfully the COAS has come down like a ton of bricks upon those who have fed in wrong data or benefited from it, he has punished both the perpetrators as well as the benefactors of this fraud. It is mind-boggling to imagine what would have happened had this chicanery not been discovered, viz (1) not only the future leadership of the Army would have been disfigured and distorted but (2) integrity of the Army as an institution would be compromised when such leaders come to office, their CVs being enhanced by “electronic” sleight of hand to a far better one. Falsification of medical records must also be looked at. The Army does not want sick people at the helm of affairs, in a time of crisis what does one do with senior people who have diabetes or heart disease? The higher the rank of those using their authority to fiddle with the data so as to be considered medically “fit” for promotion, more stiffer must be the punishment. Such men lack the basic integrity, the most vital ingredient for higher leadership. Unfortunately in our country they thrive and continue to enjoy the fruits of their chicanery.

More than anything else we must do something about false accusation subverting the development of good leaders. There is a famous incident involving Hazrat Umar (and I do not expect non-Muslims to understand this), wherein someone came to his home and said, “there is a person at the street corner hurling abuses at you” Hazrat Umar thereupon asked “who is this person and why is he abusing me? I have done him no favours!” This about sums up most of another syndrome deeply that afflict us, the inherent tendency to bite the hand that feeds us. This tendency of attacking the benefactor is not confined to South Asia, even in the corporate boardrooms of the western world, “favourites” usually turn against their mentors. A severe character deficiency and the twisted mind of a pervert finds it unacceptable to accept the fact of benefiting by his mentor’s help. The disgruntled employee’s only cause for complaint is he cannot stomach the fact of living for years off someone he hates. Good leaders are thus brought down and replaced by bad and/or indifferent leaders, without character and/or integrity.

One major step for changing the leadership quality for the better would be to hand down maximum punishment for false accusation. In line with the COAS cracking down on those falsifying computer data meant to get the individual undeserved promotion, those indulging in false character assassination of any kind must be punished. If the accusation made would result in the death penalty for the person accused, then in the Muslim tradition of an eye for an eye, the person making a false accusation must also face the same punishment. For lesser accusations the person must be given life imprisonment, at the very least including confiscation of his entire property. While the individual loss for the victim is deplorable, the loss to the country in denying the leadership it’s due position is beyond evaluation. The rumour mill is supreme in Pakistan, some incorrigible rascals are past masters at exploiting this for their own benefit. A stop must be put to it sooner rather than later, our governance mode will otherwise go from bad to worse, bad leaders being succeeded in turn by more atrocious ones simply because the natural emerging leadership is knocked out of contention.

Expectations are raised with every transition in governance in Pakistan. Whenever there is military transition in Pakistan, these expectations tend to go through the roof. The reason is simple, the people have more confidence in the military leadership to deliver on the promises made. This is an acknowledgement that in the military merit is recognized, at least for the most part. Moreover character assassination is not generally as successful as in the general public. Good leaders would bring good governance to Pakistan, God alone knows good governance is a dire necessity. A system check and balance must be put in place allowing good leadership to evolve naturally, the natural corollary of good governance will never be available to this country. Poor countries are only poor because they have poor leaders. It is also said that countries get leadership what they deserve, in the case of Pakistan this is not a correct premise. We have a great country and great people inhabit this country, we deserve at the very least good leaders, if not great ones. There is nothing more vital far this country than ensuring that good leadership has a chance to emerge.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.

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