Pakistan: Dynastic leadership is the cornerstone of Pakistani democracy


Hussain Saqib

The hereditary political leadership started disappearing from the world political map with ushering in of the era of democracy; because hereditary leadership and democratic values are incompatible. Hereditary leadership is also called dynastic leadership in which heir to the throne is the eldest offspring of the royal family. Wherever in the world, the dynastic leadership exists; it is only symbolic with reigns of the state in the hands of democratic leaders elected by the people. Dynastic politics is exclusive where right of leadership is a divine right of the heir alone. On the other hand, democratic traditions are inclusive where anyone having the support of majority can become a political leader.

According to Wikipedia, a dynasty is a job passed down from generation to generation and has been associated with monarchy and defined patrilineally. Kinship and inheritance were predominantly viewed and legally calculated through descent from a common ancestor in the male line. However, men descended from a dynasty through females have sometimes adopted the name of that dynasty while claiming its position or inheritance. The dynasties, except those existing symbolically like the British Monarchy, have totally vanished from the civilized world due to onset of democratic process.

The dynastic leadership, however, still reigns in parts of the world like Saudi Arabia and Gulf where democracy has not so far been allowed to take roots. The South Asian region is, however, unique in the sense that in the countries in this region, even the political leadership is passed on in hereditary fashion. The leadership is monopolized for one or two families who do not allow the democracy to take roots in order that they have a free hand to appropriate to themselves the right to rule and plunder the national resources to further their political interests in a royal manner.

The case of Pakistan is even more interesting. It has a history of having intermittent military regimes, the political leadership having been assumed by the leaders of military and snatched from the political royals. None of the military dictators belonged to any elite political house; they were from middle class families of humble background. They had reached the top military positions on merit as the system of military promotions does not recognize bloodline as a route to career progression. These dictators were not chosen by people yet they were from amongst the masses. Interestingly, common man was more prosperous, secure and happy during the dictatorial regime. The only class which claims victimhood during these regimes were political royals who were deprived of the privilege of promoting their family interests at the cost of national interests.

After the advent of “democracy” in 2008, common man has borne the brunt of dynastic democracy. Four of Pakistan’s major political parties have lined up cushy jobs and safe parliamentary seats for the scions of their leaders, a sign that the country’s political dynasties remain strong. According to a report carried by The National, the rise of young leaders from old platforms comes ahead of general elections, to be held no later than January 2013. The parties undergoing dynastic succession are the Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The tradition of dynastic succession among prominent political families dates back to British colonial rule up to August 1947 and it has been naturally easy for the children of former Pakistani presidents and prime ministers to assume leadership of a ready-made political following. They have instant access to political grooming and power networks, so politics has become a family trade, much in the way as it is with shopkeepers.

Most prominent among the political heirs apparent, according to the report, is Bilawal Bhutto, the 23-year-old son of Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister assassinated in 2007. The late leader, through her will, transferred all her assets including her party’s leadership to this boy of tender age to pave way for his becoming the prime minister. The senor leaders of the party were not considered worthy of succeeding Bhutto, who herself had inherited the party after sidelining her mother. Her mother was nominated to become leader after her father’s death. The young Bhutto who had assumed the Bhutto surname instead of his father’s Zardari name, at the age of 19 was instantly showered with praises. The young daughter of the then prime minister wrote an article titled “My Leader” attributing to him all leadership qualities a perfect leader is supposed to possess. The senior leaders of the party were no less boot-lickers.

The Bhuttos of the PPP would outdo the Khans of Charsadda, for three generations leaders of the ANP, an ethnic Pashtun nationalist party that has dominated politics in the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa since before independence. The chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Amir Haider Hoti, is a maternal grandson of Wali Khan who was father of current ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali Khan. The biggest rivalry, however, is widely expected to be between Hamza Sharif and Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, respectively the heirs of the Nawaz and Quaid factions of the PML. Mr Hamza is the nephew of the PML-N chief, Nawaz Sharif, a former two-time prime minister. Mr Elahi is the nephew of the PML-Q chief, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, also a former prime minister.

Many people contest that if the principle of hereditary leadership is recognized in Pakistan where more than half of the people are illiterate and only recognize dynasty and not political acumen, the mantle of leadership for Bhutto family should belong to daughter of the son of Bhutto, Fatima, and not the son of his daughter, Bilawal who is not even a Bhutto. But Fatima has different ideas. Being a properly educated person well-versed in democratic traditions, she thinks that dynasty is fundamentally incomparable with the democracy and they are opposites. Democracy inspires participation. Dynasty enforces closed policy. Democracy is all about creative differences, tolerance for the unknown and dynasty is all about self, she told CCTV channel of China. Fatima said she would stick to her decision not to take advantage of her bloodline even more because what we see in Pakistan in 60 odd short years is that dynasty has destroyed the political culture of the country.

Mr Zardari has been grooming his heir apparent in matters of statecraft at state expense. The thinking majority of Pakistanis was disturbed to see the young “Bhutto” participating in international parleys as crown prince and meeting world leaders without holding any public office and without having been administered oath to ensure that he will abide by the rules of secrecy in highly classified matters of the state.

Hereditary politics facilitates access to resources of the state and misappropriation of the state resources makes politicians and their cronies filthy-rich and politics a very expensive business which excludes everyone else. This is one reason that the literate urban middle-class hates “this” democracy. This is also the reason that leaders are not interested to invest in education.


One thought on “Pakistan: Dynastic leadership is the cornerstone of Pakistani democracy

Comments are closed.