From loyal to royal

Better to be in the wings, directing the actors, than the star of the political show we fondly call home, says Fawad Chaudhry

From loyal to royal
What Kevin Spacey hasn’t already said in the American political TV series House of Cards, probably isn’t worth saying: “Power in politics,” he quips, “is like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”

As usual, television has the answer. Our entire political structure in Pakistan reflects the reality of these lines. Most “relevant” people in politics do not necessarily hold any significant position in the hierarchy, but they are far more important than the people who are only apparently important. Of the latter, those with the greatest delusions of grandeur are to be found on television talk shows. It’s easy to impress people when you’re on TV and can convince them that you have the ear of Caesar. Personally, I find that such people are more likely to be struggling to gain anyone’s ear at all. It is the people you don’t hear about who are likely to be directing the show – and likely to be closest to the source of power.

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That's the other thing about Caesar: you can't be more intelligent than he.

We’ve never seen the likes of Salman Farooqi, Anwer Majeed, Nergis Sethi and Shaukat Tareen on television, explaining the PPP’s power policy. But on Constitution Avenue, everybody knows exactly who is behind which policy (and it wasn’t Raja Pervez Ashraf). Ultimately, of course, the architects of the PPP’s failed power policy cost the party a national election. Likewise, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has his own coterie of advisers, all of who enjoy immense power, but are rarely seen or even noticed. Chaudhry Munir, Mariam Nawaz (the daughter), Hassan Nawaz (the son), Fawad Hassan (the secretary)…  they hold tighter reins than any old federal minister. Politics is the art of the possible. And they have perfected the art.

But Pakistani politics – and perhaps all third-world politics – suffers from the seth dilemma: politicians run parties like they might run a fiefdom. First-world politics has been transformed by corporate principles, on the other hand. Corporations hire the top people available to run the entity; seths will try to run everything themselves. No room for talented people here, but thank you for your interest. American, British and European leaders might be happy surrounding themselves with the finest minds, but in countries like Pakistan, this will only give the average politician a severe case of insecurity. That’s the other thing about Caesar: you can’t be more intelligent than he.

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The rise of Mian Nawaz Sharif is in itself a great tale of the triumph of mediocrity over merit. In 1981, the then governor of Punjab, General Jillani, appointed Nawaz Sharif his adviser on sports (!). Within two years, the latter had become finance minister of Punjab. By 1985, he was being touted as the first choice of Zia ul Haq and his three key advisers, General Jillani, General K M Arif and General Fazl e Haq, for the post of chief minister of Punjab. Zia preferred Nawaz to his PM, the hapless Mohammad Khan Junejo. After Zia, both Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Hameed Gul were taken with Nawaz Sharif’s guileless façade. Best rule Pakistan through a proxy, they thought, and no one plays proxy better than Nawaz Sharif. (Of course, the other story is that, instead of being used, Nawaz Sharif used the Ghulam Ishaq Khan–Aslam Beg–Hameed Gul troika.)

But even Benazir Bhutto always felt more comfortable with the likes of Jahangir Badar and Mushtaq Awan than with sharp minds such as Aitzaz Ahsan. Sadly, for the political leadership, personal loyalty is more important than the ability to deliver or than loyalty to an idea. Thus, key decisions revolve around the loyal people. Of course, loyalty is important, but making it the only criterion gives you an incompetent administration. And once your faithful coterie, too, fails to deliver, this loyalty rapidly becomes irrelevant. Every good king knows that.

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Pakistan needs to modernize its politics, and for this, political leaders must understand the importance of giving political parties a corporate-style structure. Unless parties function democratically, unless there is a team with which to share ideas, the political process will lag behind and the leadership will keep failing us. Have our politicians the foresight to do this? Can they be persuaded? Any volunteers for the job?

Follow the author @fawadchaudhry