Should Competence Trump Honesty in Pakistan?

"It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues" is a quote often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, also known as Honest Abe.

I do not entirely agree with Honest Abe, but what does it mean in Pakistan's context, given the extraordinary and often hypocritical incessant demands for honesty by the nation's TV talking heads? Is competence not as big or bigger virtue than honesty? Is it not Utopia to expect angels to rise to leadership positions in a nation that generally scores badly at all levels on corruption indexes? Is it not better to elect and expect greater competence from the leaders in Pakistan? The kind of competence that delivers good governance for the greater good of society?

Since the beginning of Pakistan's existence as an independent nation in 1947, there has been constant repetition of slogans about piety and honesty by invoking the name of Islam, and its early legendary leaders, particularly great Caliphs like Omar. What is often overlooked is that Caliph Omar was not just impeccably honest; the key reason for his tremendous success as a great leader and highly respected ruler was his extraordinary competence in governance. Can we find a leader like Caliph Omar today? I think it's highly unlikely. However, I do think it is possible to find people who are reasonably competent amongst Pakistanis to help lead the nation to a better future.

Looking around at the recent history of successful leaders in the Islamic world, like Malaysia's Mahathir Mohammad and Indonesia's Suharto, there have been serious allegations of corruption and abuse of power against them. And yet, it is their sufficient competence in delivering good governance to their people that has brought great economic success and remarkable human development to their nations, and ultimately a greater measure of competent democratic governance to their highly literate electorates.

Beyond the Islamic world, there are various levels of corruption found in both developed and developing nations. But many of them have made significant strides in recent years, mainly because the leaders whom they have elected have been far more competent those in Pakistan. Even in Pakistan, whenever the military rulers have brought in technocrats and professionals to help develop and execute good policies, there have been periods of rapid growth. It is their competence, not their unassailable honesty, that has helped them deliver significant economic growth.



Pakistan's average economic growth rate was 6.8% in the 60s (Gen. Ayub Khan), 4.5% in the 70s(Zulfikar Bhutto), 6.5% in the 80s (Gen. Zia ul-Haq), and 4.8% in the 90s (Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif). Growth picked up momentum in the 21st Century under General Musharraf, and from 2000-2007, Pakistan's economy grew at an average 7.5%, making it the third fastest growing economy in Asia after China and India. There were 2-3 million new jobs created each year from 2000-2007, which significantly enlarged the middle class, and helped millions escape poverty.

Unfortunately, there is a troubling history of the democratic process in Pakistan resulting the election of leaders who are demonstrably both corrupt and incompetent. After surviving the lost decade of the 1990s under such leaders, and then thriving in this decade under a more competent dictator until 2007, Pakistan has once again returned to the bad old days of the 1990s. The economy is stagnating, inflation is high, there are shortages of everything from food to water and power and security, unemployment is rising, and many are slipping back into poverty.

It would be great if Pakistanis can have both competence and honesty in their leaders. However, I would personally insist on competence to deliver good governance as a minimum criterion for leadership positions, if I can't have both.

Here is my incomplete wish list for the kind of competencies desirable in governing Pakistan at this critical juncture in its life:

1. Motivational Competency: The leadership needs to sell a vision of a secure, peaceful, stable and prosperous Pakistan, and motivate the people to work toward achieving it. It's not going to be easy, but strong motivational skills can help inspire the nation, in spite of the deep skepticism and toxic cynicism that pervades the nation's discourse today.

2. Security Competency: What the leadership needs is a comprehensive strategy using a mix of intelligence capability, political dialog, military force and close monitoring to isolate and defeat those who continue to perpetrate murder and mayhem on the streets of Pakistan. Such a policy must be developed, debated, sold to the people, and constantly refined to produce results.

3. Human Development Competency: No nation can achieve greatness unless its human resource potential is developed and utilized to the fullest. It is a challenge that will require a team of committed and competent professionals with the full backing and the resources of the state to build a public-private partnership for mass literacy campaigns and to provide access to food and health care. Beyond that, there will be a serious focus required to build great institutions of higher learning to develop knowledge based economy for the twenty-first century.

4. Economic Competency: There is a need to build a non-partisan economic leadership team with the best available talent and experience in Pakistan. Such a team should be chartered to come up with policies and programs to spur nation's economic growth to create opportunities for the tens of millions of young people, and to generate the national resources for funding ambitious programs in human and economic development of the nation.

Can our current leadership do it? Their past record is not reassuring. However, if they make a serious effort toward it, and start to show some results, I am confident they will find real support for their efforts in Pakistan. Results from good governance by the politicians will be the best guarantee for the survival of democracy in Pakistan.

Related Links:

Pakistan's Decade of 1999-2009 in Review

ASEAN Architect Suharto Passes On

NRO and Corrupt Democracies in South Asia

Malaysia National Front Suffers Setback

Musharaf's Economic Legacy

Pakistan's Corruption Indexes

Return to Bad Old Days in Pakistan

Shaukat Aziz's Economic Legacy

Daily Carnage in Pakistan

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