July 23, 2024

Pakistan and Merit

Tariq Ali says that Pakistan deserves more from its opposition – and its ruling government – in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. 

A triumvirate consisting of her husband, Asif Zardari (one of the most venal and discredited politicians in the country and still facing corruption charges in three European courts) and two ciphers will run the party till Benazir’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, comes of age. He will then become chairperson-for-life and, no doubt, pass it on to his children. The fact that this is now official does not make it any less grotesque. The Pakistan People’s Party is being treated as a family heirloom, a property to be disposed of at the will of its leader.

Dynastic politics is a sign of weakness, not strength. Benazir was fond of comparing her family to the Kennedys, but chose to ignore that the Democratic Party, despite an addiction to big money, was not the instrument of any one family.

He’s right – it is not a good idea to base a political party with aspirations of ruling a nation on a family name.  Ms. Bhutto’s son may prove to be a reasonable leader – in 20 years time – or he may not.  The nation, it seems to me, would be better served to let the Darwinian effects of a meritocracy decide the party’s leaders rather than following a simple lineage of marriage and DNA.


The issue of democracy is enormously important in a country that has been governed by the military for over half of its life. Pakistan is not a “failed state” in the sense of the Congo or Rwanda. It is a dysfunctional state and has been in this situation for almost four decades.

At the heart of this dysfunctionality is the domination by the army and each period of military rule has made things worse. It is this that has prevented political stability and the emergence of stable institutions. Here the US bears direct responsibility, since it has always regarded the military as the only institution it can do business with and, unfortunately, still does so. This is the rock that has focused choppy waters into a headlong torrent.

The military’s weaknesses are well known and have been amply documented. But the politicians are not in a position to cast stones. After all, Mr Musharraf did not pioneer the assault on the judiciary so conveniently overlooked by the US Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, and the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. The first attack on the Supreme Court was mounted by Nawaz Sharif’s goons who physically assaulted judges because they were angered by a decision that ran counter to their master’s interests when he was prime minister.

The handling of Ms. Bhutto’s return, her failed protection, and the bungling of the aftermath of her murder all point against the legitimacy and maturity of the Pakistani government as represented by General Musharraf.

Other commentators such as Andrew McCarthy disagree with Ali’s sentiment that the Pakistani military is the central problem and see it as the only source of stability in Pakistan.

Appointing a mere boy as the leader of a major opposition party does nothing to dispel that idea. 

Yet the military’s artificial enforcement of stability cannot last.  Countervailing forces will only build – as they’ve done under Musharraf’s rule – until they cannot be restrained.  The resulting explosion could easily – and may yet – be worse than the effects of having allowed events to take their natural course.

This is why Pakistani executives’ regular undermining of the Supreme Court is so damaging:  There is no rule of law to fall back on in times of trouble, nothing that can and must be defended when the principles of government are ever-changing.

Where is the leader who will recognize that principle?  Where are the political groups that realize that ability, character, and ideas matter more than bloodlines and military force?  The latter, it seems, would lead to the former, assuming the absence of a fundamentalist revolution, a major assumption.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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