Some of us who believed that Mr. Zardari would do well wished him so from the core of our hearts. After all, he had a wonderful teacher in his wife with whom we had the honour to work and for whom we had the utmost regard and respect.
Knowing that political office is meant for politicians, many of whom had loyally waited eleven long years for their chance, those of us who were not politicians understood that members of the Party would, and should, take precedence; and especially those who won their spurs by getting elected in bruising battles that take place during elections.
Those whom Benazir Bhutto had sought out during her years in exile and whom she had summoned now and then and always kept in touch with, via her Blackberry, felt that we had something by way of experience and expertise to offer Mr. Zardari that initially, at least, till he got to grips with his job, he might find useful.
We were wrong. Not because Mr. Zardari preferred others of our ilk with better, different or more varied experience, or because he preferred to look outside the ring, so to speak, for those who had a novel perspective on governing but because he turned to people who had absolutely no knowledge of governance and who, in their earlier incarnation, as hangers on, were the antithesis of what aides to a President should be.
Most of those around Mr. Zardari today have in the past shown their ill disguised contempt for officials, who they regard as clerks, pawns and mere nuisances; for the Rules which in their view are nothing more than disposable red tape and for Procedures which they believe are needless hurdles deliberately contrived by officialdom to thwart, delay and procrastinate. They are particularly irked by the requirement to obtain “official” clearance when “the boss” had already given his OK.
Mr. Zardari personally is a pleasant man, very clubbable in a rustic sort of way and obliging. He is also very considerate and has a long memory not for the bad but, to his credit, for the good turn that some may have done him. And, as everyone knows, he makes a firm friend.
But what he suffers from and what is lethal for someone in his position is his belief that he knows it all. Politics, business, the economy, foreign affairs, handling people, etc; name it and he knows best. Unfortunately, as experience has shown, he does not. Ironically, in this respect he is somewhat like Mr. Leghari, his nemesis in 1996, though less fluent. There was no topic under the sun that the former President felt unable to dilate on at some length. It would never occur to him, or Mr. Zardari, to say, “I am sorry, I do not know enough to speak on the subject.” Or, as his wife used to say with a disarming candour, “Actually I haven’t a clue about this. Can we get hold of someone to explain it to me?” No one thought any less of her for saying so.
What the all knowing types forget is that their insistence of being “know alls” and “know best” inhibits those around them to speak up and, therefore, deprives them of the opinion they need to hear and which, in all probability, is far more educated than their own. It also creates a culture of silence, of timidity and reticence when the opposite is required. Aides explain their pusillanimous behaviour as “respect” for the boss; others just shrug their shoulders in resignation. The trouble is that because they put up with bad decisions uncomplainingly they continue to get bad decisions from the boss till a stage is reached when “damage control” becomes impossible. This is what seems to have happened in the case of this regime and now there is very little that anyone can do to remove the pervasive sense of incompetence that surrounds it.
To be a good leader you must also be a good butcher. Those who do not perform must go. Mr. Zardari is loath to fire friends with the result that they feel secure in office although, at best, they should be secure only in his affection. Benazir Bhutto liked to have loyalists around her, but she knew their worth and, as often as not, bypassed them. She preferred the expertise of professionals rather than those of her friends, even if she preferred the company of the latter.
It is not the ape or the tiger in man that she feared, it was the donkey. It is now too late for Mr. Zardari to change. Francis Bacon in his essay on the nature of man wrote that “Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome but seldom extinguished.”
Nevertheless, if he has to be at the helm of affairs there are a few things that Mr. Zardari can do to help us, the public, and in doing so he will also help himself.
The first thing that comes to mind about this particular regime is competency (not corruption, that is a matter for the courts). Evidence of the lack of competency is overwhelming, so much so that examples are unnecessary. Because Mr. Zardari personally has no experience either of management and administration, or of state craft he must have around him those that do. “The State in choosing men to serve it, takes no notice of their opinions. If they be willing faithfully to serve that satisfies”. In other words, loyalty to his person should not be a President’s criteria for selection nor a requirement; it must be ability and competence. Anyway, those who steal for you can also steal from you.
It beggars the imagination why, in view of his own inadequacies and lack of experience, Mr. Zardari chose Mr. Gilani as the nominal and now seemingly actual chief executive. Mr. Gilani’s term as Speaker was not especially distinguished; it landed him in jail not for any grand endeavour but apparently for behaving exactly like politicians are prone to; although in his case, unluckily for him, a vindictive successor regime gleefully seized upon the opportunity.
Having found himself in an office of which he could never have dreamed of, the “incidental” Prime Minister now finds himself the actual Prime Minister because of the follies of his mentor. Be that as it may, why did Mr. Gilani, for example, have to display his embarrassing lack of administrative or managerial competence by playing fast and loose with promotions in the bureaucracy which have confounded many, caused immense heart burning and may well be struck down by the Courts? One Government department reverberates with laughter at his phone call to a former class fellow congratulating her on being promoted by him to the highest grade only to be told by the lady in question that she was not qualified to be considered for promotion.
The people of this country laugh at everything only so that they do not weep. They use laughter as a fence against the handiwork of their leaders and the evils of life. It is said that comedy is tragedy that happens to other people. Here it is happening to us, so it is not funny.
In a manner proceedings of National Reconciliation Ordinance are moving ahead and the kind of observations being made by judges of 17-member larger bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, it just appears President Zardari will not have the last laugh.
“He has been defanged. Yes he is Lion. Who can only roar but is unable to bite”, came the latest comments from diplomatic circles in Islamabad.