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A Misleading Miasma.

Byline: Khawaja Amir

Pakistan is plagued with problems like poverty, illiteracy, power outages, lack of healthcare, price hikes, unemployment and a lot more that directly affects the life of a common Pakistani. But then it is probably the 'All is Well' report that the rulers of Pakistan get from their courtiers or, more appropriately, their henchmen that allows them to sleep in peace while the people continue to suffer at levels and in all segments of life. Their sufferings span from load-shedding to bad governance, poor garbage management, disappearing utility services to, insecurity, etc. If we compare the seven decades of our independence with that of Malaysia which attained independence in 1957, we find ourselves decades behind. The only reason seems to be the role of 'yes men' in the lives of our rulers who very conveniently convince them that if there is a shortage of bread there is enough cake in the market so there is nothing to worry.

There is an old Chinese proverb which says that a government full of yes-men ill serves the needs of the people. This has probably been the dilemma with our leaders who ruled the country. But according to Susan Tardanico, Founding Partner and CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance LLC, it's perfectly natural to enjoy the company of people who agree, support and praise you all the time. "Suck-ups make us feel like we're curled up with a warm blanket. Everything is okay, even cozy. We feel safe with them. We trust them. These are the people we often consider to be our most loyal friends because they help us feel like we're right. In fact, we could be a pawn in their game; an unhealthy degree of power and influence over our decisions and actions."

When we read the history of the downfall of great empires and dictators, we find a very significant role of sycophants and their influence on the rulers. During the fall of Berlin, Hitler was told that the fall of Moscow was imminent and he kept looking at the watch impatiently. A military adviser standing by his side suggested that Moscow may probably never be taken since, in the course of its history, many invaders have had to turn back from its gates. This man was dismissed instantly and a courtier who blindly assured Hitler that the German troops are at the moment marching in the streets of Moscow, was promoted. This is a perfect example of a sycophant's role in state affairs.

When an elected ruler tries to impose a one-man rule in the country, the sycophants take full advantage of the situation: they make concerted effort to isolate the leader from reality. Surrounded by a small group of people who deliver the good news and hide the bad, his entire worldview is completely distorted. Since after becoming the ruler he loses contact with the general public he believes in what they say and even rewards them. Or, he simply doesn't want to hear the truth, so he keeps a distance from all those who try to give him the correct and realistic picture. In either case, it's a dangerous position for any leader simply because burying the head in the sand creates further complications and the problems can only be solved if you take the bull by the horns.

Unfortunately, soon after the death of Quaid-i-Azam, the image of an honest, upright man who hated the company of sycophants, faded and one ruler after another disregarded the example of a good leader giving precedence to self and family over the country. The switchover provided ample space to the 'yes men' to gather around the ruler. Take the instance of Ayub Khan. He was doing pretty well. The popular discourse about the Ayub era (1958 - 1969) is that of economic growth, prosperity and the growing stature of Pakistan on the world stage. But then, while he was being appreciated by foreign leaders like Gen. Charles de Gaulle and Robert McNamara, a group of politicians, including young and dynamic Zulfiqar ali Bhutto, who used to call him 'Daddy' out of affection, convinced him that only he can take the country to new heights of glory and persuaded him to enter politics and reorganize the Muslim League.

Playing in the hands of sycophants despite his misgivings about politicians and the political process, he joined a political party, the Conventional Muslim League, 'a version of which has always been available to Pakistan's military rulers as they struggle to transition out of the uniform.' While explaining his entry into politics, he said, "Failed to play this game in accordance with my rules and so I have to play in accordance with their rules - and the rules demand that I belong to somebody, otherwise who is going to belong to me. So it is simple. It is an admission of defeat on my part anyway."

But then, soon after the celebration of his decade of reforms, the movement against Ayub Khan started and young protesters in Karachi and Lahore began describing him as a dog (Ayub Khan Kutta!). This was a time when politicians and rulers in Pakistan hardly ever used derogatory language against their opponents, so Ayub was supposedly shocked when he heard that some of his 'children' (the term he used to describe his subjects), had called him a dog. At the same time, the opposition by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gained strength. On February 21, 1969, General Ayub conceded defeat, declaring he would not seek re-election in 1970. In March, General Yahya Khan took control as the Chief Martial Law Administrator.

Very much like Ayub Khan, Gen. Musharraf started pretty well but then on the advice of 'yes men' he opted to rule the country through tried and tested politicians and reorganize the Pakistan Muslim League, ignoring the norms of democracy and, as a result, he was not only forced to resign as the President of Pakistan but also to leave the country. At the end of the day, the right to rule belongs to the people and it reverts to them regardless, as eternal victory belongs to them and not to military rulers. It is unfortunate that our rulers have not learnt anything from history.

What is happening now in and around the Prime Minister's House seems to be very alarming. In the current crisis, the rule of law, constitutionalism and democracy seem to be under the threat of disruption. As things are moving, it may go down in history as having the dubious distinction of multiplying the crisis because of their lack of professionalism and indulging to the deliberately illegal orders of their political masters. Things are getting gloomier for Nawaz Sharif, although he may still be in a state of denial. Though the prime minister has somehow escaped the immediate humiliation of being removed from office, his trial continues. Again, on the advice of his courtiers that 'all is well,' he has decided not to resign though this may prove detrimental not only for him but for the party as a whole.

The standoff between the civilian government and the military establishment seems to have been resolved but there is a general belief that the Dawn leaks problem is not over and it may strike back with renewed force. A section of the PML stalwarts believe that the Prime Minister has saved the main culprit and penalized the innocents. The exodus of 'yes men' like Pervez Rashid, Tariq Fatemi, Rao Tehseen, etc. from the corridors of power has further complicated the issue and who plays the role of Brutus is a question mark. Nevertheless, the time has come to understand that the 'yes men' are a different breed who want to be with masters in the best of times and are the first to revolt in the worst of times.

According to renowned columnist Zahid Husain, "While the controversy over the Dawn report may have triggered the latest crisis, there are a number of other factors that have contributed to the current civil-military stand-off. There is an almost complete breakdown of trust between the two branches of state. The latest round of confrontation has also removed any illusions about improving civil-military relations with the change of army guard. This goes to show once again that it is the institution and not just the individual that matters in this tricky relationship."

There cannot be two opinions about that fact that the growing civil-military tension is highly inflammable not only for the country that is facing severe external and internal security challenges, but also for the democratic political route. The conflict will not only hurt the present political system; it will also have a negative impact on the institution of the armed forces. It is high time that both the civilian and military leaderships understand the severity of the problem and make a concerted effort to resolve this stand-off before it is too late.

These are wakeup calls not only for Nawaz Sharif but all the coming rulers. He must wake up before it is too late. He must read the writing on the wall and accept the political realities. It is time to get rid of all such 'yes men' who appear on TV channels with rhetoric that all is well. It is time to concentrate on problems like poverty, illiteracy, power outage, healthcare, price hike, unemployment and general wellbeing of the people.

At the end of the day, there is a piece of advice for the rulers which Han Fook Kwang, Editor-at-large gave to the rulers of Singapore. "You need people who have their own views, whose views you respect, whom you can have a productive disagreement with and work out ideas which you might not have come up with."
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 30, 2017
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